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Theories of autism

A brief overview of three theories accounting for the strengths and challenges associated with autism
Chalk drawing of human head on a blackboard
© University of Bath

Psychological theories have tried to account for both the strengths and challenges associated with autism. Here are three (and there are more) to introduce the psychological theories of autism:

Theory Strengths Challenges
ToM/E-S Systemising Empathising
WCCT/EPT Local Processing Global Processing
Dual Process Deliberation Intuition

Theory of Mind (ToM) and Empathising-Systemising (E-S) theories propose that autistic people have difficulty understanding what other people are thinking and feeling, and responding appropriately (ie empathising). Strengths are associated with understanding systems (systemising).

Weak Central Coherence Theory (WCCT) and Enhanced Perceptual Theory (EPT) propose relative strengths in autism associated with processing details in a given situation. Challenges are associated with processing the wider context in the situation.

The Dual Process Theory of Autism proposes that autistic people face challenges when they have to respond rapidly, where non-autistic people would respond intuitively following implicit rules. Strengths can be demonstrated when autistic people have the time to think through the options and deliberate to arrive at the best outcome.

Social situations often require understanding the intentions of others, appreciating the context of the interaction, and are typically both rapid and intuitive for non-autistic people. However, many situations benefit from systematic deliberation and processing of the details.

Follow the link below if you would like to read an academic journal article about the Dual Process Theory of Autism.

© University of Bath
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Good Practice in Autism Education

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