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Discuss the possible explanations of Autism. Refer to evidence in your answer.

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Discuss the possible explanations of Autism. Refer to evidence in your answer. Autism as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical manual IV for mental disorders is referred to as a pervasive mental disorder, suggesting that such children show severe and extensive developmental deficits with disturbances in almost every functioning including relationships, thinking and language. The term autism stems from the Greek word 'autos' meaning 'self' and perhaps for this reason autism has been described as a 'mental disorder characterised by self-orientation'. There are three main theories as to what causes Autism, these theories consist of genetic theory where it is believed several different genes are responsible for autism. The 'cold parenting' hypothesis is where it is believed that autism stemmed as a result of innate disorder being aggravated by the behaviour of an unresponsive mother or refrigerator mother. The Cognitive theory, which is divided into 'Theory of Mind 'and' Central Coherence, believes that sufferers of autism do not understand the world from the point of view of others and that they lack a 'Theory of Mind'. Also it is suggested they lack central coherence, central coherence is the tendency to process information for its general meaning rather than rather for the specific meaning of each element. Concordance studies are often used to determine the extent to which a condition is inherited and involve calculating the percentage likelihood of someone suffering form a disorder if they have a relative who is also a sufferer. ...read more.


The social and communication deficits observed in people with autism suggests that sufferers do not understand the world from the point of view of others. The apparent failure of people with autism to understand that other people, or indeed them selves have a mental state was proposed by Frith (1989), Frith proposed that people with autism seriously lack the ability to mind-read, in short they lack a theory of mind. Baron-Cohen (1985) set out to demonstrate differences in mind reading ability between children with autism, Down's syndrome children and ordinary children. Children observed a scenario involving two puppet dolls, Sally and Ann. As the scenario developed Sally left her ball in a basket and went out. Whilst Sally was out, Ann moved Sally's ball from the basket to the box. Children were then questioned about where Sally would look for the ball when she returned. The correct answer 'Sally will look in the basket' requires an understanding if what Sally knows or more importantly what she doesn't not know. The result was that the Down's syndrome group and the ordinary children gave the correct answer 85% of the time whereas the children with autism gave the correct answer only 20% of the time. The conclusion drawn was that the autistic group's understanding of the scenario was fundamentally different to that of other two groups of children. ...read more.


Thus it is very difficulty to demonstrate any cause and effect relationship between parental behaviour and behavioural outcomes for the child. Powell (1999) concludes that any coldness in the parents' behaviour is more likely to be caused by the behaviour of the autistic child rather than the parents. While perhaps not intended, Bettleheim's explanation for autism has profound negative effects on parents of autistic children who are made to feel responsible for their child's condition. What theory of mind does not explain was the exceptional ability often demonstrated to children with autism. Accounts of 'autistic savants' are often presented in literature and there are some fascinating cases of people with autism who can perform amazing mathematical feats or play any tune from the beginning to the end after hearing it only once. At a more general level, it is not unusual to see a child with autism complete a complex jigsaw at incredible speed, even with the puzzle upside down. Critics of the theory of mind hypothesis argue that it is an incomplete account of the cognitive processing in autistic people since it explains only the deficits and not the tendency to display exceptional abilities. Cognitive explanations for autism are not really explanations of cause as they merely elaborate on the precise nature of the cognitive differences between people with autism and non-sufferers. Whilst knowing exactly what information processing deficits and special talents involved in autism is interesting. It remains for further research to determine the causes of these differences in processing. ...read more.

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