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Annu Rev Neurosci. 2005;28:109-26.

Autism: a window onto the development of the social and the analytic brain.

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1
Autism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB2 2AH, United Kingdom. sb205@cam.ac.uk

Abstract

Although the neurobiological understanding of autism has been increasing exponentially, the diagnosis of autism spectrum conditions still rests entirely on behavioral criteria. Autism is therefore most productively approached using a combination of biological and psychological theory. The triad of behavioral abnormalities in social function, communication, and restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests can be explained psychologically by an impaired capacity for empathizing, or modeling the mental states governing the behavior of people, along with a superior capacity for systemizing, or inferring the rules governing the behavior of objects. This empathizing-systemizing theory explains other psychological models such as impairments of executive function or central coherence, and may have a neurobiological basis in abnormally low activity of brain regions subserving social cognition, along with abnormally high activity of regions subserving lower-level, perceptual processing--a pattern that may result from a skewed balance of local versus long-range functional connectivity.

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