Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is classified as a pervasive developmental disorder that presents a triad of impairments across communication, social behavior, and restricted interests (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). To date, many attempts have been made to explain the cognitive profiles of children and adults with ASD. Three prominent theories, Weak Central Coherence (Frith, 1989), Systemizing (Baron-Cohen, 2002), and Executive Dysfunction Theory (Pennington & Ozonoff, 1996), may together provide a plausible explanation for the cognitive biases of individuals with ASD.

Weak Central Coherence (WCC) Theory proposes that individuals with ASD have difficulty learning new information due to a fixation towards local or detailed information at the exclusion of meaning, such as the gist (Happ © & Frith, 2006). According to Systemizing Theory, individuals with ASD learn new information by detecting and following set rules (Baron-Cohen, 2002). Both theories fail to consistently account for the cognitive profiles of children with ASD. As an alternative, the Executive Dysfunction Theory has been proposed to account for the cognitive and behavioral profiles in ASD (e.g., Rajendran & Mitchell, 2007). The current study aims to evaluate these cognitive theories within the same children to determine how they each may contribute to the cognitive profile of ASD.

The present study finds that the cognitive biases for rule-based information influences language abilities in distinct ways within ASD children. Additionally, children with High-Functioning Autism rely on rule-based knowledge, whereas children with Asperger's Syndrome and typically developing children rely on contextual information when presented with counterfactual statements. Finally, executive functioning appears to play a bigger role in cognitive biases for children with Asperger's Syndrome than High-Functioning Autism and Typically Developing children. These differences provide a foundation for understanding how children with ASD may learn information more efficiently. The current study aims to combine measures of central coherence, systemizing, and executive functioning to understand whether children with autism possess greater biases towards local-, global-, or rule-based cognitive processing biases.

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Creative Commons License
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