Dr. Gnanathusharan Rajendran of the University of Strathclyde and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh and Liverpool John Moores University presented pupils with a series of tasks, such as collecting and delivering a book and making a cup of hot chocolate, to be carried out within a time limit of 8 minutes.
The activities were carried out in a computer-generated virtual environment, Rajendran says.
The study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, found the pupils did not appear to deviate from the order in which the tasks were listed, although doing so could have saved them time.
They also broke several rules for the tasks, such as only being allowed to go up one staircase and down another.
"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," Rajendran says in a statement. "The pupils with autism achieved tasks when they were given to them singly but difficulties emerged when they were asked to interleave -- arrange data in a non-contiguous way to increase performance -- the tasks with each other."