Defining the cognitive phenotype of autism

Brain Res. 2011 Mar 22;1380:10-21. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2010.10.075. Epub 2010 Oct 26.


Although much progress has been made in determining the cognitive profile of strengths and weaknesses that characterise individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), there remain a number of outstanding questions. These include how universal strengths and deficits are; whether cognitive subgroups exist; and how cognition is associated with core autistic behaviours, as well as associated psychopathology. Several methodological factors have contributed to these limitations in our knowledge, including: small sample sizes, a focus on single domains of cognition, and an absence of comprehensive behavioural phenotypic information. To attempt to overcome some of these limitations, we assessed a wide range of cognitive domains in a large sample (N=100) of 14- to 16-year-old adolescents with ASDs who had been rigorously behaviourally characterised. In this review, we will use examples of some initial findings in the domains of perceptual processing, emotion processing and memory, both to outline different approaches we have taken to data analysis and to highlight the considerable challenges to better defining the cognitive phenotype(s) of ASDs. Enhanced knowledge of the cognitive phenotype may contribute to our understanding of the complex links between genes, brain and behaviour, as well as inform approaches to remediation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder / complications
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition Disorders / classification*
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognitive Science / methods*
  • Cognitive Science / trends*
  • Disability Evaluation*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Phenotype