An evaluation of wayfinding abilities in adolescent and young adult males with autism spectrum disorder

Yingying Yang, Weijia Li, Dan Huang, Wei He, Yanxi Zhang, Edward Merrill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Wayfinding refers to traveling from place to place in the environment. Despite some research headway, it remains unclear whether individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) show strengths, weaknesses, or similarities in wayfinding compared with ability-matched typically developing (TD) controls. Method: The current study tested 24 individuals with ASD, 24 mental-ability (MA) matched TD (MA-TD) controls, and 24 chronological-age (CA) matched TD (CA-TD) controls. Participants completed a route learning task and a survey learning task, both programmed in virtual environments, and a perspective taking task. Their parents completed questionnaires assessing their children's everyday wayfinding activities and competence. Results: Overall, CA-TD controls performed better than both the ASD group and the MA-TD group in both wayfinding tasks and the perspective taking task. Individuals with ASD performed similarly to the MA- TD controls on wayfinding performance except for backtracking routes. Perspective taking presented an area of deficit for people with ASD and it predicted individual differences in route learning and survey learning. Parents’ reports did not predict their children's wayfinding performance. Two mini meta-analyses, including previous studies and the current study, showed a significant deficit in route learning, but not in survey learning for the ASD group relative to MA-TD controls. Conclusions: Although participants with ASD showed impairments in wayfinding relative to CA-TD controls, the impairment is not specific to their ASD, but rather due to their mental age. Nevertheless, route reversal in route learning may present unique difficulty for people with ASD beyond the effects of mental age.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101697
JournalResearch in Autism Spectrum Disorders
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Autism
  • Parents
  • Perspective taking
  • Route learning
  • Survey learning
  • Wayfinding


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