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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2003 Feb 28;358(1430):387-92.

Disentangling weak coherence and executive dysfunction: planning drawing in autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

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Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Research Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, DeCrespigny Park, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF, UK.


A tendency to focus on details at the expense of configural information, 'weak coherence', has been proposed as a cognitive style in autism. In the present study we tested whether weak coherence might be the result of executive dysfunction, by testing clinical groups known to show deficits on tests of executive control. Boys with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) were compared with age- and intelligence quotient (IQ)-matched boys with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and typically developing (TD) boys, on a drawing task requiring planning for the inclusion of a new element. Weak coherence was measured through analysis of drawing style. In line with the predictions made, the ASD group was more detail-focused in their drawings than were either ADHD or TD boys. The ASD and ADHD groups both showed planning impairments, which were more severe in the former group. Poor planning did not, however, predict detail-focus, and scores on the two aspects of the task were unrelated in the clinical groups. These findings indicate that weak coherence may indeed be a cognitive style specific to autism and unrelated to cognitive deficits in frontal functions.

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