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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 May 27;364(1522):1393-8. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2009.0001.

Perception and apperception in autism: rejecting the inverse assumption.

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Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge, Downing Site, Cambridge CB2 3EB, UK.


In addition to those with savant skills, many individuals with autism spectrum conditions (ASCs) show superior perceptual and attentional skills relative to the general population. These superior skills and savant abilities raise important theoretical questions, including whether they develop as compensations for other underdeveloped cognitive mechanisms, and whether one skill is inversely related to another weakness via a common underlying neurocognitive mechanism. We discuss studies of perception and visual processing that show that this inverse hypothesis rarely holds true. Instead, they suggest that enhanced performance is not always accompanied by a complementary deficit and that there are undeniable difficulties in some aspects of perception that are not related to compensating strengths. Our discussion emphasizes the qualitative differences in perceptual processing revealed in these studies between individuals with and without ASCs. We argue that this research is important not only in furthering our understanding of the nature of the qualitative differences in perceptual processing in ASCs, but can also be used to highlight to society at large the exceptional skills and talent that individuals with ASCs are able to contribute in domains such as engineering, computing and mathematics that are highly valued in industry.

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