The Weak Coherence Account: Detail-focused Cognitive Style in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK.
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (Impact Factor: 3.34). 02/2006; 36(1):5-25. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-005-0039-0
Source: PubMed


"Weak central coherence" refers to the detail-focused processing style proposed to characterise autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The original suggestion of a core deficit in central processing resulting in failure to extract global form/meaning, has been challenged in three ways. First, it may represent an outcome of superiority in local processing. Second, it may be a processing bias, rather than deficit. Third, weak coherence may occur alongside, rather than explain, deficits in social cognition. A review of over 50 empirical studies of coherence suggests robust findings of local bias in ASD, with mixed findings regarding weak global processing. Local bias appears not to be a mere side-effect of executive dysfunction, and may be independent of theory of mind deficits. Possible computational and neural models are discussed.

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Available from: Uta Frith, Jun 13, 2015
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    • "However, cultural independence of sequence learning in boys with ASD is in contrast to the findings of Weru (2005) who found children with ASD from Kenya to be more impaired in general than children with ASD from the United States of America. However, in our study sequence learning in boys with ASD was related to age which suggests that also in the autistic mind there is a healthy core of executive functioning skills even if these do not reach the same level as in typically developed children (see also Happé et al., 2006; Ozonoff & McEvoy, 1994; Robinson et al., 2009). "
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    ABSTRACT: The study investigated sequence learning from stochastic feedback in boys with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and typically developed (TD) boys. We asked boys with ASD from Nigeria and the UK as well as age- and gender-matched controls (also males only) to deduce a sequence of four left and right button presses, LLRR, RRLL, LRLR, RLRL, LRRL and RLLR from a feedback signal. Results revealed no significant differences between the boys with ASD from Nigeria and the UK as both groups of boys improved during the task. Most interestingly, the ASD and TD group of boys learning differed for certainty, but not uncertainty of feedback. We concluded that further research is needed why boys with ASD did not benefit from true, logical and reliable feedback.
    Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilitites 06/2016; in press. · 0.13 Impact Factor
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    • "For instance, the autistic individual may rely on only one sensory modality, while several are relevant to a task — a phenomenon known as stimulus overselectivity [29]. In the context of a reading task, some autistic people might focus exclusively on small fragments of local information with less account for global, contextual and semantic information [22]. These reading difficulties have been pointed out as a reason for the lower educational achievements of students with ASD [9], resulting in future problems with employment; only 6% of the adults with autism in the UK are employed full-time [31]. "
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    ABSTRACT: People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are known to experience difficulties in reading comprehension, as well as to have unusual attention patterns, which makes the development of user-centred tools for this population a challenging task. This paper presents the first study to use eye-tracking technology with ASD participants in order to evaluate text documents. Its aim is twofold. First, it evaluates the use of images in texts and provides evidence of a significant difference in the attention patterns of participants with and without autism. Sets of two types of images, photographs and symbols, are compared to establish which ones are more useful to include in simple documents. Second, the study evaluates human-produced easy-read documents, as a gold standard for accessible documents, on 20 adults with autism. The results provide an understanding of the perceived level of difficulty of easy-read documents according to this population , as well as the preferences of autistic individuals in text presentation. The results are synthesized as set of guidelines for creating accessible text for autism.
    The 17th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference of Computers and Accessibility, Lisbon, Portugal; 10/2015
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    • "In contrast, some individuals with ASC show intact (or even enhanced) visuospatial information processing (in terms of both perception and reasoning) as shown by superior performance on the Block Design task [Shah and Frith, 1993], Embedded Figures Task [EFT; Jolliffe and Baron- Cohen, 1997], mental rotation tasks [Falter et al., 2008] and RPM [Dawson et al., 2007; Soulières et al., 2009]. This has been suggested by some to be underpinned by deficits in central coherence [Happ e and Frith, 2006] or by hypersystemizing [Baron-Cohen, 2006; Mottron et al., 2006]. This cognitive profile in individuals with ASC gave rise to an early theory [the " left hemisphere dysfunction " (LHD) theory of autism] that left-lateralized functions are dysfunctional while right hemisphere functions remain relatively unaffected [McCann, 1981; Ricks and Wing, 1976]. "
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    ABSTRACT: In humans, both language and fine motor skills are associated with left-hemisphere specialization, whereas visuospatial skills are associated with right-hemisphere specialization. Individuals with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) show a profile of deficits and strengths that involves these lateralized cognitive functions. Here we test the hypothesis that regions implicated in these functions are atypically rightward lateralized in individuals with ASC and, that such atypicality is associated with functional performance. Participants included 67 male, right-handed adults with ASC and 69 age- and IQ-matched neurotypical males. We assessed group differences in structural asymmetries in cortical regions of interest with voxel-based analysis of grey matter volumes, followed by correlational analyses with measures of language, motor and visuospatial skills. We found stronger rightward lateralization within the inferior parietal lobule and reduced leftward lateralization extending along the auditory cortex comprising the planum temporale, Heschl's gyrus, posterior supramarginal gyrus, and parietal operculum, which was more pronounced in ASC individuals with delayed language onset compared to those without. Planned correlational analyses showed that for individuals with ASC, reduced leftward asymmetry in the auditory region was associated with more childhood social reciprocity difficulties. We conclude that atypical cerebral structural asymmetry is a potential candidate neurophenotype of ASC. Hum Brain Mapp, 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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