What Can Pictorial Representations Reveal about the Cognitive Characteristics of Autism?

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Abstract

In this paper, we develop a cognitive account of autism centered around a reliance on pictorial representations. This Thinking in Pictures hypothesis shows significant potential for explaining many autistic behaviors. We support this hypothesis with empirical evidence from several independent behavioral and neuroimaging studies of individuals with autism, each of which shows strong bias towards visual representations and activity. We also examine three other cognitive theories of autism—Mindblindness, Weak Central Coherence, and Executive Dysfunction—and show how Thinking in Pictures provides a deeper explanation for several results typically cited in support of these theories.