Understanding Autism Insights From Mind And Brain

This article by Elisabeth Hill and Uta Frith discusses three main theories to explain the conditions of autism, including mentalizing deficit, central coherence and the executive dysfunction theories.


Two major identifiers of autism include impaired social interaction and communication as well as repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. There are also differing degrees of autism which include Asperger syndrome which has some of the general characteristics of autism, such as obsession and narrow interests, along with fluent language and good academic ability. However, this is not the same as high-functioning autism, because there are no delays in language and cognitive development. Autistic behaviors are also associated with Attention Deficit Disorder, anxiety, depression and mental retardation. There is also an occurrence of savant skills in 10% of autistic people which are outstanding skills in any one area including music or art abilities that accompany a low general intellectual ability.

Structural Differences

According to the article, there are structural differences in an autistic brain, such as a reduced size of neuronal cells and an increased level of cell density in regions of the brain that control emotional and social behavior. Brains of individuals with autism also tend to be larger and heavier which is attributed to the failure of normal pruning processes which eliminate faulty connections.


MENTALIZING DEFICIT- This refers to the impaired understanding of mental states like beliefs, pretence, irony, deception, non literal language and motives.

CENTRAL COHERENCE- People with autism generally have poor levels of central coherence which is a lacking connection between recalling details and strategic task planning. Autism is commonly attributed with strong rote memory skills and attention to detail but poor “common sense” skills.

EXECUTIVE DYSFUNCTION- This is related to an excellent ability to carry out specific routines and create common rituals, which is similar to characteristics of attention deficit disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. However there are high levels of rigidity and a lack of mental flexibility.


This article is particularly important for educators because it provides an understanding of the characteristics and common traits associated with autism. If people can understand the mental processes and skills of autism, then there is room for a common understanding and patience.

Hill, Elisabeth H. and Uta Frith. (2003). Understanding Autism: Insights from Mind and Brain. Find the article attached below under the files section.

Posted by Theresa Garcia de Quevedo