Objectives: Autistic disorder is a developmental handicap with an unknown neurological basis. Current neuropsychological models for autism suggest an abnormal construction of visual perceptual representation or a deficit in executive functions. These models predict cerebral lesions in the temporo-occipital or frontal regions of autistic patients. The present study aimed at studying the presence of symptoms of autism and visual agnosia in a 13 year old girl who had a right temporo-occipital cortical dysplasia that was surgically removed at the age of 7.
Methods: Neuropsychological evaluation included Wechsler and Kaufman intelligence scales, a test of word fluency, digit span, Corsi block, California verbal learning, Trail making, Benton facial recognition, Snoodgrass object recognition tests, Rivermead face learning subtest, and developmental test of visual perception. The ADI-R was used to show current and retrospective diagnosis of autistic disorder. Neuroimagery included brain MRI, single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), and PET.
Results: Brain MRI showed a right occipital defect and an abnormal hyperintensity of the right temporal cortex. PET and SPECT disclosed a left frontal hypometabolism together with the right occipital defect. Neuropsychological testing showed a visual apperceptive agnosia and executive function deficits. Psychiatric study confirmed the diagnosis of autistic disorder.
Conclusions: Although the possibility that autism and visual agnosia were dissociable factors in this patient cannot be excluded, the finding of both deficits supports the possibility that occipito-temporal lesions can predispose to the development of autism.