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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2013 Feb;37(2):164-83. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2012.11.014. Epub 2012 Dec 1.

Atypical attentional networks and the emergence of autism.

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Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience, Division of Developmental Medicine, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.


The sociocommunicative impairments that define autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are not present at birth but emerge gradually over the first two years of life. In typical development, basic attentional processes may provide a critical foundation for sociocommunicative abilities. Therefore early attentional dysfunction in ASD may result in atypical development of social communication. Prior research has demonstrated that persons with ASD exhibit early and lifelong impairments in attention. The primary aim of this paper is to provide a review of the extant research on attention in ASD using a framework of functionally independent attentional networks as conceptualized by Posner and colleagues: the alerting, orienting and executive control networks (Posner and Petersen, 1990; Petersen and Posner, 2012). The neural substrates and typical development of each attentional network are briefly discussed, a review of the ASD attention literature is presented, and a hypothesis is proposed that links aberrant attentional mechanisms, specifically impaired disengagement of attention, with the emergence of core ASD symptoms.

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