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Autism. 2010 Sep;14(5):408-29. doi: 10.1177/1362361310366315.

Self-referenced processing, neurodevelopment and joint attention in autism.

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The M.I.N.D. Institute and School of Education, University of California at Davis, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


This article describes a parallel and distributed processing model (PDPM) of joint attention, self-referenced processing and autism. According to this model, autism involves early impairments in the capacity for rapid, integrated processing of self-referenced (proprioceptive and interoceptive) and other-referenced (exteroceptive) information. Measures of joint attention have proven useful in research on autism because they are sensitive to the early development of the 'parallel' and integrated processing of self- and other-referenced stimuli. Moreover, joint attention behaviors are a consequence, but also an organizer of the functional development of a distal distributed cortical system involving anterior networks including the prefrontal and insula cortices, as well as posterior neural networks including the temporal and parietal cortices. Measures of joint attention provide early behavioral indicators of atypical development in this parallel and distributed processing system in autism. In addition it is proposed that an early, chronic disturbance in the capacity for integrating self- and other-referenced information may have cascading effects on the development of self awareness in autism. The assumptions, empirical support and future research implications of this model are discussed.

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