Facial expressions, imitation, play, orienting and joint attention in autistic children: assessing the metarepresentational theory of autism
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AbstractThe purpose of this study was to empirically establish the limits of the metarepresentational model of autism. This was accomplished by determining whether the model was able to sufficiently account for the pattern of deficits displayed by a group of autistic children. The skills/abilities of 10 autistic children were compared to those of two matched control groups. Subjects in the normally developing control group (n = 10) were matched to autistic subjects on the basis of verbal mental age, while subjects in the developmentally delayed control group (n = 10) were matched on the basis of chronological age and verbal mental age. Seven specific domains were examined: imitation; sound orientation; joint attention; quality of facial expressions; frequency of facial expressions; functional play; and symbolic play. All subjects were videotaped during the adminstration of the experimental tasks and each domain was subsequently coded for analysis. The metarepresentational model is based on the premise that autism results fro• a core metarepresentational deficit. As such, the model posits that skills/abilities that require metarepresentational capacity tend to be impaired in autistic individuals, while those that do not, tend to remain intact. Only two of the seven domains assessed, joint attention and symbolic play, required metarepresentational skills. The obtained results demonstrated that the deficits of autistic children were not limited solely to skills that involved metarepresentation. Rather, the autistic subjects displayed deficits in all seven of the domains assessed. It was concluded that the explanatory power of the metarepresentational model was not sufficient to account for the complexity of the autistic disorder. It was also noted that none of the other theories of autism put forth to date (e.g., affective theory) appears to be able to account for the obtained results. This raises an important question. Why has the pathogenesis of autism eluded researchers for more than five decades? Possible answers to this question are addressed and implications for future research are discussed. Research which examines the development of autism in infants or which attempts to determine if empirically valid autistic subtypes exist, appears to be particularly warranted.
Bibliography: p. 97-115.