The next complex need I will be focusing on, on my topics of social cognition in relations to individuals with complex needs, will be autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children with ASD has been increasingly occurring within schools, these children are often diagnosed with ASD before they even begin attending school, as onset of ASD occurs within the first years of life. ASD is a disorder which is presented in profound social disconnect, and the cause is rooted within the child’s early brain development. Social disconnect may include; unawareness of surroundings, failure to respond to sights and sounds, limited speech and language skills, difficulty playing with other children and making friends, as well as repetitive or restricted behavior that may be difficult for others to understand.

As I have stressed in my previous blogs, socialization is a huge factor in a child’s future cognitive abilities. Therefore you can see the anti-social tendencies, or the apparent disconnection from one social surroundings, can be very problematic for the cognitive function of individuals with ASD. Looking at an article that specifically looks at joint attention (information-processing) in individuals with ASD. Numerous studies indicate that there are behavioral impairments in joint attention, which causes the inability to socially coordinate their attention with others and this is extremely important for social learning. Without the capacity for joint attention, success in many educational contexts would be difficult. In a class room setting, for example, there can be rapid-fire exchanges of shared attention in social interactions between the students, or the teacher and the student, without joint attention social cognition is greatly impaired.

However, these impairments may vary in levels of severity as autism is on a spectrum there wavers in deficits and abilities as well as a variation in the magnitude of effects on these deficits and abilities, all depending on whether they are high or low functioning. My mother, who is an educational assistant (EA) had the pleasure of working with two boys on opposite ends of the autism spectrum, who coincidentally were brothers. Austin was very high functioning, almost to the point where an EA was unneeded. Ethan however, was very low functioning, to the extent that he was non-verbal and his cognitive abilities were realty stunted. Individuals with ASD are very unique in their abilities and deficits, and therefore should be individually assessed and then a proper program plan should be developed and should cater to that specific individual. Simply providing an EA to a student with ASD is not enough, there is no quick or easy solution to mediate or guide a child with ASD in order to optimize their learning capabilities. In order to do so, intervention to better their social cognitive abilities should be done on a case-to-case basis.


Mundy P., Sullivan L., Mastereorge A. M. (2009). A parallel and distributed-processing model of joint attention, social cognition and autism. Autism Research, 2, 2-21

Baron-Cohen S., Leslie A. M., Frith U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind”? Cognition, 21(1). 37-46

Happe F. & Frith U. (2006). The Weak Coherence Account: Detail-focused Cognitive Style in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(1). 5-24

Autism Reading Room (2017). Autism: A Disorder of Social Disconnect. Retrieved form


7 thoughts on “ASD and Social Cognition

  1. Being unable to work jointly on a project would be incredibly frustrating, and I can only begin to imagine the difficulties ASD individuals face daily. I found some research suggesting that ASD can co-occur with prosopagnosia. Being unable to perceive, let alone decipher meaningful information from, another person’s face would make group work virtually impossible. It has been suggested that toddlers with ASD symptoms habituate to faces slower than control groups. This slowed rate relates to impairments in social skill and social information processing. I am not stating that all individuals with ASD have prosopagnosia, though a comorbidity of this nature could give us greater insight into the reason some ASD individuals have difficulty in social realms.


  2. I looked at a study where they looked at children with autism and looked to see if they had the theory of mind. The theory of mind is simply when people are unable to impute beliefs to others and to predict their behaviour. The reason I found this study interesting was because not only did the researchers use typical developing children as a control group but they also compared the children with ASD to children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome. It was found that even though the mental age of the autistic children was higher than that the controls, they were the only children that failed to impute beliefs to others. Which means that dysfunction that the researchers demonstrated is independent of mental retardation and specific to autism.

    Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind”?. Cognition, 21(1), 37-46.


  3. Being informed on the prevalence of ASD in children is something that more educators should be aware of. Prevalence is increasing, and as noted by a UK study, it is possible that up to 1% of children may fulfill criteria of ASD (Raznahan & Bolton, 2008). Educators must take into account the the differing types of ASD as well. Raznahan & Bolton (2008) note that ASD can be broken up into 3 main categories; autism, Asperger’s syndrome and atypical autism. As you noted the differences between the two brothers with ASD, understanding the different disorders on the spectrum and what kind of assistance is required can help policymakers and educators better integrate individuals with ASD. Fostering social skills and communication would not be achieved the same way for individuals with autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Knowing the disorders and what can be done to help should be key for integrated classrooms.


    -Raznahan, A., & Bolton, P. (2008). Autism spectrum disorder in childhood. Medicine, 36, 489-492.


  4. ASD is quite an unfortunate phenomenon. It seems as though a thinning of cerebral cortex grey matter in areas local to the mirror neuron system (MNS) may be one main cause of the social cognitive deficits associated with ASD. Since the MNS is argued to be responsible for empathic behaviours (among others), this leads us to believe that a certain causal relationship must exist between its deterioration and the social cognitive deficits of ASD. This was shown by Hadjikhani et al. (2006) in a study postulating that “cortical thinning of the MNS was correlated with ASD symptom severity.” Between a group of 14 high-functioning ASD adults and a control group matched for sex, age, intelligence quotient, and handedness, it was furthermore concluded that “cortical thinning was also observed in areas involved in emotion recognition and social cognition.” This all the more evidence that ASD selectively impairs individuals’ social interactions -at least by way of great difficulty in recognizing others’ emotions.

    Hadjikhani, N. (2005). Anatomical Differences in the Mirror Neuron System and Social Cognition Network in Autism. Cerebral Cortex, 16(9), 1276-1282. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhj069


  5. I’ve really enjoyed your topic blogs! Last summer I was able to work with children with special needs and I assisted a boy who had ASD. One of his most noticeable behaviours was his repetitive behaviours. Individuals with Autism often repeat words, movements or become attached to certain objects and this may be a result of a few different factors. Firstly, it might be “an attempt to gain sensory input” in an effort to stimulate the vestibular system which controls balance. Secondly, it might be “an attempt to reduce sensory input”. Focusing on a particular object might be a way of drowning out or dealing with a loud or stressful environment. Thirdly, it might be to “deal with stress and anxiety and to block out uncertainty”. Finally it might simply be a way of entertaining oneself.


  6. I looked at ASD and the social skills that grows among them and i found out that all children with autism have social communication problems. However, children who have social communication problems without restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities may be diagnosed as having a Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder rather than an Autism Spectrum Disorder. I also looked at how to improve the ASD social interactions. With autism, the children should be treated sofly and more carefully for instance try creating an environment of success. Support them to learn new skills and gradually reduce your support so they can do the skill independently. Try to always finish a session on a positive note.


  7. A huge cognitive deficit that children with ASD have is a lack of Theory of Mind. Theory of mind is what allows us to understand the intentions of others without them explicitly telling us. Those who have ASD are unable to understand what others are thinking without being told. In my research I found that theory of mind is also lacking in individuals with Borderline personality disorder. These disorders are similar as they both include deficits in social cognition. Individuals with these disorders, although very very different, have similarities as they both have difficulty making social relationships and friendships.


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