Autobiographical Memory and Social Identity in Autism: Preliminary Results of Social Positioning and Cognitive Intervention

Front Psychol. 2021 Mar 17;12:641765. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.641765. eCollection 2021.

Abstract

Autobiographical memory (AM) is closely linked to the self-concept, and fulfills directive, identity, social, and adaptive functions. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are now known to have atypical AM, which may be closely associated with social communication difficulties. This may result in qualitatively different autobiographical narratives, notably regarding social identity. In the present study, we sought to investigate this concept and develop a cognitive intervention targeting individuals with ASD. First, 13 adolescents with ASD and 13 typically developing adolescents underwent an AM interview featuring an original coding system designed to analyze the social self. We observed that the narratives produced by the ASD group focused more on the family than on extended social spheres, compared with those of the comparison group. Moreover, participants with ASD did not include themselves in the social groups they mentioned, and produced more references to others, compared with typically developing participants. Second, we designed a cognitive intervention program consisting of individual and group sessions that targeted AM. We conducted a pilot study among three adolescents with ASD aged 12, 16, and 17 years. Preliminary results showed that the program increased extra-family narrative references by the two youngest adolescents, who produced more social integration markers. Our study of autobiographical narratives yielded interesting findings about social positioning in ASD and showed how AM can be targeted in rehabilitation programs as a vector of social interaction.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorders; autobiographical memory; self; self-categorization; social identity; social positioning; therapeutic interventions.