Autism Neuropsychology

Autism Neuropsychology

The following theories have been associated with autism:

Empathizing-systemizing Theory

This theory proposes that other psychological models such as injuries of executive function or central coherence may have a neurobiological basis in the abnormally low activity of the brain region that deals with social cognition, along with the abnormally high activity of regions that deals with lower-level perceptual processing.

Theory of Mind Hypothesis

The Theory of the Mind hypothesis focuses on disabilities in reasoning about mental states. It explains the main behavioral symptoms that characterize autism. Although autism is defined on the basis of disabilities not only in social and communication skills but also with repetitive behavior patterns, the theory of the mind does not cover the explanation to the behavior pattern disability.
The mirror neuron system theory associated with autism supports this hypothesis. Mirror neurons are a class of neurons that discharge when individuals perform a given motor act and when they observe others perform that same motor act. The human mirror system is involved in understanding others’ actions and their intentions behind them, and it underlies mechanisms of observational learning (Cattaneo L, Rizzolatti G, 2009).


Executive Dysfunction Theory

The executive dysfunction theory is best explained thru understanding what an executive function is. Executive function is the ability to maintain an appropriate problem-solving set for the attainment of a future goal (Griffith, E. et al, 1999). Executive functions disabilities are responsible for the poor performance of individuals with autism on the theory of mind tasks (Joseph, R. 1999).

Executive dysfunction hypothesizes that behavior patterns in individuals with autism are products of impairments in the following:

  • Working memory
  • Planning
  • Inhibition
  • And other forms of executive functions
    A strong point in the Executive Dysfunction theory is predicting stereotyped behavior patterns and limited interests, while the weaknesses are that executive function is something that is hard to measure.

Other Theories on Autism and Cognition

Weak central coherence theory revolves around the idea of characterizing the style of stimulus processing that could give rise to a pattern of responding (Plaisted et al, 2003). This theory can predict special talents individuals with autism may possess. It also looks into how abnormalities in the brain, particularly the white matter area, can cause a lack of coordination between essential areas of the brain.

Griffith, E., Pennington, B., Wehner, E., Rogers, S. (1999, August) Executive Functions in Young Children with Autism. Retrieved May 11, 2011, from http://www.du.edu/psychology/dnrl/executive_function_autism.pdf

Cattaneo L, Rizzolatti G. (2009, May) The mirror Neuron System. Retrieved May 11, 2011 from pubmed.gov

Joseph, R. (1999, November) Neuropsychological Frameworks for Understanding Autism. Retrieved May 11, 2011, from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Plaisted, K. , Saksida, L. , Alca´ntara, J. and Weisblatt, E. (2003, January). Towards an understanding of the mechanisms of weak central coherence effects: experiments in visual configural learning and auditory perception. Retrieved May 11, 2011, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1693121/pdf/12639334.pdf

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Being an RBT for me was extremely fun because where were you going to find a place where you can be completely silly without having to worry what people thought about you? This was the only job that made me feel like I could make a dramatic difference while being myself.

I also liked to be surrounded by people that had the same goals of wanting to help kids and the teamwork made the job much easier and more enjoyable.

Change and progress was the ultimate goal for our kiddos. The early intervention program was seriously only a miracle because I saw changes in the kiddos that from day one, you wouldn’t even recognize who they were.

Changes from being able to utter 3-4 words where they can only make a syllable from when they started, the behavior decreases in which kiddo that used to engage in 30-40 0 self-harm to only half, learning how to wait during games, table work where they use to swipe and drop to the floor if they had to.

My favorite was when the parents would tell us what amazing progress they were making at home. I used to tear up and felt for these parents so much because it was already difficult for them and now, they can trust and rely on ABA and the therapists knowing their goal was ours.

By Emma Rogers, BA, RBT

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