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Neuropsychologic functioning in autism: Profile of a complex information processing disorder

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 1997

Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA
Highland Drive VA Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA
Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Pittsburgh, PA


Neurobehavioral theories of autism have hypothesized core deficits in sensory input or perception, basic attentional abilities or generalized attention to extrapersonal space, anterograde memory, auditory information processing, higher order memory abilities, conceptual reasoning abilities, executive function, control mechanisms of attention, and higher order abilities across domains. A neuropsychologic battery designed to investigate these hypotheses was administered to 33 rigorously diagnosed autistic individuals with IQ scores greater than 80, and 33 individually matched normal controls. Stepwise discriminant function was used to define the profile of neuropsychologic functioning across domains. The neuropsychologic profile in these autistic individuals was defined by impairments in skilled motor, complex memory, complex language, and reasoning domains, and by intact or superior performance in the attention, simple memory, simple language, and visual–spatial domains. This profile is not consistent with mental retardation or with a general deficit syndrome, but rather with a selective impairment in complex information processing that does not involve visual–spatial processing. This profile is not consistent with a single primary deficit, but with a multiple primary deficit model in which the deficit pattern within and across domains is reflective of the complexity of the information processing demands. This neuropsychologic profile is furthermore consistent with the neurophysiologic characterization of autism as a late information processing disorder with sparing of early information processing. (JINS, 1997, 3, 303–316)

Research Article
© 1997 The International Neuropsychological Society

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