13 October 2014

Autism as "a disorder of prediction"

From MIT News:
The researchers suggest that autism may be rooted in an impaired ability to predict events and other people’s actions. From the perspective of the autistic child, the world appears to be a “magical” rather than an orderly place, because events seem to occur randomly and unpredictably. In this view, autism symptoms such as repetitive behavior, and an insistence on a highly structured environment, are coping strategies to help deal with this unpredictable world...

“At the moment, the treatments that have been developed are driven by the end symptoms. We’re suggesting that the deeper problem is a predictive impairment problem, so we should directly address that ability,” says Pawan Sinha, an MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences and the lead author of a paper describing the hypothesis in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week...

This hypothesized deficit could produce several of the most common autism symptoms. For example, repetitive behaviors and insistence on rigid structure have been shown to soothe anxiety produced by unpredictability, even in individuals without autism. “These may be proactive attempts on the part of the person to try to impose some structure on an environment that otherwise seems chaotic,” Sinha says.

Impaired prediction skills would also help to explain why autistic children are often hypersensitive to sensory stimuli...
More at the link.  I don't have the PNAS link, but it's a high-quality journal.


  1. As someone with mild autism, I actually find most of this article does make the pieces fit really well. I'm fairly sure that they're wrong about this causing the hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli though as I've done a lot of comparisons with other people and though people without disorders do vary, I am far outside the normal range. Now, my pool is limited so I admit the possible flaws in my data.

    I understand why the medical community seeks to find the "single cause" for every condition as this makes treatment much easier but, I really hate it when they try to ram every symptom into one cause that clearly doesn't fit just to satisfy this desire. Sometimes I feel is causes more problems having this desire (need?) for a single cause than it solves.

    1. Maybe hypersensitivity *causes* impairment in prediction. And I have always wondered about the lack of bottom-up reasoning ablilities in people with autism. Might that amount to the same thing?

  2. Completely off-topic, Privacy Badger plays hell with this site (and eats all of my posts unless I disable it for most google URLs). Seeing how many things it blocks though, I'm not surprised.


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