Understanding autism: insights from mind and brain

Elisabeth L. Hill, Uta Frith

Abstract

Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication as well as repetitive behaviours and restricted interests. The consequences of this disorder for everyday life adaptation are extremely variable. The general public is now more aware of the high prevalence of this lifelong disorder, with ca. 0.6% of the population being affected. However, the signs and symptoms of autism are still puzzling. Since a biological basis of autism was accepted, approaches from developmental cognitive neuroscience have been applied to further our understanding of the autism spectrum. The study of the behavioural and underlying cognitive deficits in autism has advanced ahead of the study of the underlying brain abnormalities and of the putative genetic mechanisms. However, advances in these fields are expected as methodological difficulties are overcome. In this paper, recent developments in the field of autism are outlined. In particular, we review the findings of the three main neuro–cognitive theories of autism: theory–of–mind deficit, weak central coherence and executive dysfunction.