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What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects more boys than girls, with a ratio of 4 boys to 1 girl, and it occurs in 0.2% of the population. 


Repetitive behaviour


Trouble with communicating, in talking/reading, or both

Inappropriate emotional responses

Trouble forming relationships, even with parents

Poor at empathising 

One main characteristic of autism is that people affected find it hard to form relationships. They are, however, good at systems, and up to 10% have a high ability in one special area that is usually connected with systems, such as playing the piano, doing maths, or drawing what is in the environment in perfect detail. Autistic people with this special ability are called 'autistic savants'. Affected children often repeat patterns over and over again, when other children would have grown tired of doing so. 

A child is usually only identified as being autistic from the age of between 2 and 3. It is likely to become apparent by then that the child is not using normal eye contact, for example, or not anticipating the needs or intentions of others. This, along with repetitive behaviour, signals autism. However, it is often difficult to diagnose autism until the child is found to fall behind of developmental milestones.


1) Theory of Mind

This is a cognitive explanation for autism, proposed by Simon Baron-Cohen in 1997. He believed that the social problems faced by autistic children could be explained by the way a child perceives themselves and others in their social world. To be socially competent, we need to be able to 'mind read', in the sense that we can understand that others thinking differently and have different intentions and feelings from ourselves. Baron-Cohen believed that an autistic child had 'mind blindness', the inability to read others' intentions, which would explain their lack of social interaction skills.

Baron-Cohen et al (1985) adapted a study to test the theory of mind in 20 autistic children, 14 children with Down's Syndrome and 27 typically-developing children. The Sally-Anne task was used on all of the children and they were asked 3 key questions:

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