ingly, the autism and Asperger groups had difficulty providing context-appropriate interpretations, instead tending to be- come overly focused on the statement in isolation. For example, the participants with autism and AS misattributed state- ments of pretense as “a joke” and sar- casm as pretense. These mistakes did not occur among the typical participants. In sum, then, a deficit in theory of mind, or perspective-taking ability, appears to be present to some degree among indi- viduals with autism. This deficit may ex- plain their unusual social behaviors. How- ever, it is also important to note that perspective-taking skills seem to improve with increasing language competence, perhaps due to the use of verbal com- pensatory strategies to solve such prob- lems, albeit via a circuitous route. Yet, the last finding, regarding the inability to in- tegrate information within a context, may also be related to the behavioral fea- tures of autism spectrum disorders. Complex Information Processing The particular pattern of responding in which participants with autism spectrum disorders failed to integrate context into their interpretations pointed to another realm of hypothesized cognitive deficit in autism spectrum disorders: abstract rea- soning. Abstract reasoning can be de- fined as the capacity for generating men- tal representations, thereby permitting the development of novel thoughts and behaviors, hypothetical thinking, and flexible interaction with others and the environment. A capacity for abstract reasoning also involves the propensity toward meaning making, or organizing simultaneous events or parts into a mean- ingful whole. Rather than synthesizing aspects of a situation into a complete pic- ture, individuals with autism spectrum disorders tend to focus on parts, regard- less of their relevance, and either fail to appreciate higher order meaning or dis- regard it altogether. Minshew, Goldstein, and Siegel (1997) referred to this as a pattern of deficits in higher order cognitive abilities, with a selective deficiency in complex in- formation processing. These authors suggested that individuals with autism have a heightened awareness of details, coupled with impoverished capacity for the active organization of information. Under these conditions, it is not surpris- ing that reasoning and problem-solving skills are severely affected. Such coexist- ing deficits and strengths would make it difficult to process complex information. Given the inherent unpredictability and complexity of social information, it is lit- tle wonder that the individual with autism finds it so difficult to interpret. An abstract reasoning deficit has long been viewed as a fundamental cognitive impairment in autism and has been doc- umented across the spectrum of the dis- order. For example, Rutter (1978) ob- served that among individuals with autism, lower general intellectual ability was related to sharp decreases in abstrac- tion ability. There is clear evidence of a universally present deficit in abstraction
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- Fall '16
- autism spectrum, Autism Spectrum Disorders