The 8 main theories about autism

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by communication and social difficulties, as well as patterns of restricted interest. here we will talk about the main theories about autism that try to explain its origin.

    Autism theories

    Although the origin of autism is currently considered unknown, a multitude of theories, both psychological and biological, have been developed to explain it. Some are more guaranteed than others. Let’s get to know them.

    1. Psychological theories

    In these theories we find the following:

    1.1. Theory of Mind

    One of the theories about autism is the one that links autism to theory of mind (ToM), formulated by Simon Baron-Cohen. Such theories have been studied more and more.

    Theory of mind refers to the “ability that we humans have to understand and predict the behavior, knowledge, intentions and beliefs of others”.

    The concept of ToM was introduced by Premack and Woodruf (1978), who conducted experiments with chimpanzees with the aim of knowing their capacity for understanding in relation to the human mind.

    1.2. neuropsychological theory

    This theory speaks of an impairment of executive function in people with autism.

    Fisher and Happé (2005) argue that autism’s own failures they mainly come from alterations of the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is responsible for functions such as memory and the regulation of environmental stimuli, both visual and auditory. It is also involved in emotional regulation, impulse control and social behavior.

    Outraged, frontal alterations are linked to executive functionsThat is to say, the set of processes responsible for the generation, monitoring and control of action and thought. In addition, they include aspects of planning and executing complex behaviors, working memory, and inhibitory control.

    When these functions were assessed in the autistic population, the results suggested overall errors in executive function and particular aspects suggested as causes of TEA.

    Global alterations in executive functioning have been observed in a large number of persistence and inability to find effective strategies to achieve the goal; for example, in the Wisconsin Map Classification Test.

    In relation to these results, a possible prefrontal alteration has been proposed with subcortical dysfunctions, as causes of the typical symptoms of ASD in the social and cognitive domains.

    1.3. Theory of central coherence weakening

    Another theory on autism is the theory proposed by Uta Frith in 2003, which proposes that autism is characterized by a specific lack of integration of information at different levels.

    According to this theory, children with autism find it difficult to make effective conceptual comparisons, judgments, and inferences.

    1.4. Hobson’s affective-social theory

    Hobson’s (1995) theory asserts that the cognitive and social deficits of autism are emotional and social in nature. Hobson Defense the role of emotion in the development of interpersonal relationships as a primary deficit in people with autism. This suggests that people with autism have a harder time understanding emotions and that this negatively affects their social interactions.

    Hobson studied the spontaneous language of autistic people for his first verbalizations about mental states, and found specific deficiencies in their ability to speak about states such as thinking, knowing, and believing.

    Ultimately, Hobson proposes to save the significance of the interpersonal-emotional disorders that underlie the problem of autism.

    1.5. Baron-Cohen’s theory of mental blindness

    Closely related to Theory of Mind, according to this theory, people with autism spectrum disorder do not understand the intentions of others and they experience anxiety when certain behaviors seem unpredictable to themAs they are unable to anticipate the facts.

    Baron-Cohen proposes a delay in the development of the theory of mind, producing varying degrees of “mental blindness”.

    This theory would explain the social and communication difficulties of people who are not neurotypical and by extension who are autistic. This limitation also occurs in another series of pathologies such as schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic behavior and people in the psychotic phase.

    1.6. Extreme Male Brain Theory (Baron-Cohen)

    This author suggests excess testosterone during pregnancy which eventually results in an overly masculinized brain (Good for systematizing and bad for showing empathy). It has never been proven.

    2. Biological theories

    On the other hand, in biological theories we find the following theories about autism:

    2.1. anatomical theories

    Some authors have found lesions of the right hemisphere in children with autism, And have been linked to impaired speech functions and nonverbal language disorders. All of this makes it difficult to understand different attitudes in others (for example, understanding sarcasm, irony, or double meanings), as well as empathy and the ability to infer and attribute aspects of others.

    Thus, the right hemisphere has important implications for the understanding of perception, emotional appearance, non-verbal language, facial recognition, and emotions. Structural alterations were also found in the amygdala and temporal lobe and the anterior cingulate cortex.

    More precisely, the amygdala has been linked to the regulation of emotions, Especially the feelings of anger and fear and the physiological reaction that these emotions produce. For its part, the preceding cingulate allows people “to have the capacity to find solutions to a new problem by making predictions about the consequences”.

    2.2. Other biological theories

    In addition to the anatomical theories mentioned, we find: genetic hypotheses (fragile X syndrome with autistic characteristics), immunological (infectious processes, such as congenital rubella), metabolic (phenylketonuria), convulsions (eg West syndrome), pre / peri / post natal conditions and finally the hypothesis of hyperserotoninemia (excess of serotonin in the cerebrospinal fluid).

    Bibliographical references:

    • García, D. and Muñoz, P. (2000). Executive functions and school performance in primary education. An exploratory study. Complutense Journal of Education, 11 (1), 39-56.
    • Tirapu-Ustárroz, J., Pérez-Sayes, G., Erekatxo-Bilbao, M. Et Pelegrín-Valero, C. (2007). What is the theory of mind? Journal of Neurology, 44, 479-489.
    • Gómez, I. (2010). Cognitive science, theory of mind and autism. Psychological thinking, 8 (15), 113-124.
    • Liliana Calderón, L., Congote, C., Richard, Sh., Serra, S., Vélez, C. (2012). Theory of Mind and Executive Function Contributions to Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorders. CES Journal of Psychology, 5 (1), 77-90.

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