Early Categorization of Animate/Inanimate Concepts in Young Children with Autism

  • Cynthia R. Johnson
  • D. H. Rakison

Categorization and concept formation deficits along with other cognitive processing deficits have been suggested in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). A compelling early cognitive deficit is the formation of coherent concepts for animates and inanimates. Development of such concepts is thought to be a crucial building block for young children’s emerging understanding that different object kinds possess different physical, psychological, biological, and motion-related properties [Rakison, D. H., and Poulin-Dubois, D. (2001). Psychol. Bull. 127(2): 209–228]. In this preliminary study, 11 preschoolers with ASD participated in two experiments that tested early concept formation. A visually-based habituation paradigm was used to test whether young children with ASD could detect correlations among static and dynamic cues and whether they were selective in the correlations to which they attend. A more interactive imitation task was used to test children’s knowledge of simple linear and nonlinear motions of animates and inanimates. Results suggest that the preschoolers with autism are delayed in the processes by which they form categories but nonetheless possess relevant knowledge about the motion properties of animates and inanimates. Implications of this preliminary study are discussed.


autism categorization cognitive processes cognitive development 



Partial support was provided by Seeding Funding, Research Advisory Committee, and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Autism CenterPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Carnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

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