Research led by a scholastic at the University of Strathclyde demonstrated that young autistic people might find the act of multitasking to be complex as they strictly adhere to tasks assigned to them in the given order.
The study also suggested that these people might face challenges due to problems involved with “prospective memory,” which helps them recall the intentions they have to execute.
Researchers had assigned the students with a variety of tasks such as making a cup of hot chocolate and collecting and delivering a book. These activities were performed in a computer-generated virtual environment, and the pupils had to execute them in a time span of 8 min.
Although the students could have saved time by deviating from the order of the tasks listed and assigned to them, the authors found that they did not appear to do so. The students were found to disobey several rules, the most important one being permitted to go up via one staircase and down via the other.
The study involved an equal number of students with and without autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The researchers plan to further look into the causes of the problems associated with multitasking for aspects such as memory, planning, time pressure, and inhibitory control.
The study involved researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Liverpool John Moores University led by a Psychology lecturer at Strathclyde, Dr Gnanathusharan Rajendran. He said, “Our research offers a real insight into the problems young people with autism have with multitasking and points the way to further investigation for possible solutions. By using, for the first time, a virtual environment, we have been able to examine what may lie behind these problems more closely than might be possible in a real-world setting.
“The pupils with autism achieved tasks when they were given to them singly but difficulties emerged when they were asked to interleave the tasks with each other. There was no difference in the time taken by the groups but the pupils with autism completed fewer tasks.
“The exercise could help to deal with these multitasking problems. The tasks or their environment could be changed to see if there is any influence on the outcomes and they could also be a tool for teaching and training.”
Diane Fraser at Strathclyde; Professor Robert Logie, Marian van der Meulen, and Dr Martin Corley at Edinburgh; and Dr Anna Law at John Moores were Dr Rajendran’s co-researchers. The tasks employed in the virtual environment were developed by Professor Logie and Dr Law.
A Research and Development Fund grant from the University of Strathclyde; the University of Edinburgh’s Development Trust Research Fund; and a grant from the Leverhulme Trust supported the research.