Atypical pattern separation memory and its association with restricted interests and repetitive behaviors in autistic children

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Emerging research suggests that episodic memory challenges are commonly encountered by autistic individuals; however, the specific nature of these memory challenges remains elusive. Here, we address critical gaps in the literature by examining pattern separation memory, the ability to store distinct memories of similar stimuli, and its links to the core autistic trait of repetitive, restricted interests and behaviors. Utilizing a large sample of over 120 autistic children and well-matched non-autistic peers, we found that autistic children showed significantly reduced performance on pattern separation memory. A clustering analysis identified three distinct pattern separation memory profiles in autism, each characterized by reduced or increased generalization abilities. Importantly, pattern separation memory was negatively correlated with the severity of repetitive, restricted interest and behavior symptoms in autism. These findings offer new evidence for challenges in pattern separation memory in autism and emphasize the need to consider these challenges when assessing and supporting autistic individuals in educational and clinical settings.