Jan Freyberg; Caroline E. Robertson; Simon Baron-Cohen

Typical magnitude and spatial extent of crowding in autism

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Enhanced spatial processing of local visual details has been reported in individuals with autism spectrum conditions (ASC), and crowding is postulated to be a mechanism that may produce this ability. However, evidence for atypical crowding in ASC is mixed, with some studies reporting a complete lack of crowding in autism and others reporting a typical magnitude of crowding between individuals with and without ASC. Here, we aim to disambiguate these conflicting results by testing both the magnitude and the spatial extent of crowding in individuals with ASC (N = 25) and age- and IQ-matched controls (N = 23) during an orientation discrimination task. We find a strong crowding effect in individuals with and without ASC, which falls off as the distance between target and flanker is increased. Both the magnitude and the spatial range of this effect were comparable between individuals with and without ASC. We also find typical (uncrowded) orientation discrimination thresholds in individuals with ASC. These findings suggest that the spatial extent of crowding is unremarkable in ASC, and is therefore unlikely to account for the visual symptoms reported in individuals with the diagnosis.


In conclusion, we provide evidence for typical crowding in the peripheral visual fields of individuals with autism spectrum conditions. We find that the magnitude and spatial extent of crowding during a simple orientation discrimination paradigm in individuals with ASC are strong and indistinguishable from age- and IQ-matched controls. We also provide evidence of typical cardinal orientation discrimination in the condition. In sum, these results suggest that crowding is unlikely to drive the atypical spatial processing of visual information reported in ASC.

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