Cognitive developmentalists have had a long-standing interest in neurodevelopmental conditions, such as autism. This is not only out of a desire to understand the causes of such atypical development, in order to advance medical science and develop interventions. It is also because studying the processes that cause atypicality can sometimes throw light on typical development. It is this two-way influence that characterises the field of developmental psychopathology. In this chapter, we focus on autism. We bring out this interaction between what (...) we now understand about autistic cognition, and how this has helped us understand ‘normality’. (shrink)
Action-perception circuits comprising neurons in the motor system have been proposed as main building blocks of higher cognition; accordingly, motor dysfunction should entail cognitive deficits. Autism spectrum conditions (ASC) are marked by motor impairments but the implications of such motor dysfunction for higher cognition remain unclear. We here used word reading and semantic judgement tasks to interrogate action-related motor cognition and its corresponding fMRI brain activation in high-functioning adults with ASC. These participants exhibited hypoactivity of motor cortex in language processing (...) relative to typically developing (TD) controls. Crucially, we also found a deficit in semantic processing of action-related words, which, intriguingly, significantly correlated with their underactivation of motor cortex to these items. Furthermore, the word-induced hypoactivity in the motor system also predicted the severity of ASC as expressed by the number of autistic symptoms measured by the Autism-Spectrum Quotient (Baron-Cohen et al, 2001). These significant correlations between word-induced activation of the motor system and a newly discovered semantic deficit in a condition known to be characterised by motor impairments, along with the correlation of such activation with general autistic traits confirm critical predictions of causal theories explaining cognitive and semantic deficits in ASC, in part, to dysfunctional action-perception circuits and resultant reduction of motor system activation. (shrink)
Extreme conditions like savantism, autism or synaesthesia, which have a neurological 2AH, UK basis, challenge the idea that other minds are similar to our own. In this paper we report a single case study of a man in whom all three of these conditions co-occur. We suggest, on the basis of this single case, that when savantism and synaesthesia co- occur, it is worthwhile testing for an undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). This is because savantism has an established association with (...) ASC, and the combination of ASC with synaesthesia may increase the likelihood of savantism. The implications of these conditions for philosophy of mind are introduced. (shrink)
A total of 378 mathematics undergraduates (selected for being strong at “systemizing”) and 414 students in other (control) disciplines at Cambridge University were surveyed with two questions: (1) Do you have a diagnosed autism spectrum condition? (2) How many relatives in your immediate family have a diagnosed autism spectrum condition? Results showed seven cases of autism in the math group (or 1.85%) vs one case of autism in the control group (or 0.24%), a ninefold difference that is significant. Controlling for (...) sex and general population sampling, this represents a three- to sevenfold increase for autism spectrum conditions among the mathematicians. There were 7 of 1,405 (or 0.5%) cases of autism in the immediate families of the math group vs 2 of 1,669 (or 0.1%) cases in the immediate families of the control group, which again is a significant difference. These results confirm a link between autism and systemizing, and they suggest this link is genetic given the association between autism and first-degree relatives of mathematicians. (shrink)
Most scientists and theorists concerned with the problem of consciousness focus on our consciousness of the physical world (our sensations, feelings, and awareness). In this paper I consider our consciousness of the mental world (our thoughts about thoughts, intentions, wishes, and emotions).The argument is made that these are two distinct forms of consciousness, the evidence for this deriving from studies of autism. Autism is a severe childhood psychiatric condition in which individuals may be conscious of the physical world but not (...) of the mental world. Relevant experimental evidence is described, including some recent neuroimaging studies pointing towards the neural basis of our consciousness of the mental. (shrink)
Howe et al. suggest that most talents can be explained in terms of practice and other environmental effects, and only exceptionally by innate factors. This commentary provides an illustration of one such exception: performance on the Embedded Figures Test by people with autism and their relatives.
We use a new model of metarepresentational development to predict a cognitive deficit which could explain a crucial component of the social impairment in childhood autism. One of the manifestations of a basic metarepresentational capacity is a ‘theory of mind’. We have reason to believe that autistic children lack such a ‘theory’. If this were so, then they would be unable to impute beliefs to others and to predict their behaviour. This hypothesis was tested using Wimmer and Perner’s puppet play (...) paradigm. Normal children and those with Down’s syndrome were used as controls for a group of autistic children. Even though the mental age of the autistic children was higher than that of the controls, they alone failed to impute beliefs to others. Thus the dysfunction we have postulated and demonstrated is independent of mental retardation and specific to autism. (shrink)