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 abnormally low activity of brain region that deals with social cognition, along with 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 attainment of a future goal (Griffith, E. et al, 1999). Executive functions disabilities are responsible for the poor performance of individuals with autism on 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 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

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

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

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

Copyright © by Special Learning Inc.

All right reserved.No part of this article may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, contact Special Learning Inc., at:



Articles Categories