University of Leicester
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Three aspects of childhood autism: Mother-child interactions, autonomic responsivity, and cognitive functioning.

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posted on 2015-11-19, 08:57 authored by John Gardner
A survey of the current literature published in the field of childhood autism suggested that despite a rapidly expanding body of research, we have little definitive understanding of the aetiology of the condition or a highly efficacious treatment model. However, there is a growing consensus that the autistic child suffers from a primary organic impairment, resulting in particular deficiencies in cognition and language, and consequently he displays pronounced learn-ing difficulties. The literature survey also indicated that there is a lack of empirical data on the manner in which parents interact with their autistic child, including the contingencies they deliver upon his characteristic responses, and the influence of the child upon the adult's behaviour. Analysis of mother-child interactions were conducted therefore, using diads with normal and autistic children and their mothers. Differences were found between the behaviour of mothers of normal children and mothers of autistic children on a number of verbal and non-verbal measures relating to their mode of interaction with these children. Such data may have potential utility for the design of generalizable behavioural treatment programmes for autistic children, with parents as the primary charge agents. The second study involved an analysis of psycho-physiological data collected from a group of non-verbal autistic children who typically display infrequent, abnormal or unpredictable overt responses to important environmental events including traditional reinforcers, novelty and social stimulation. Autonomic data appeared suitable for determining the effects of such environmental stimuli, which also may have implications for treatment design and for an understanding of the aetiology of childhood autism. The third area of investigation consisted of three studies designed to investigate further the apparent deficits and abnormalities in cognitive functioning that have been reported recently in experimental research literature. These studies involved binary sequence learning, concept attainment and probability-learning tasks, and contrasted the performance of autistic children with normal and subnormal control subjects. It was concluded from these data that there is evidence of abnormalities in functioning on cognitive tasks and that they may be particularly related to the nature of strategies adopted in such tasks and the failure to utilise task-relevant information feedback in an appropriate manner.


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University of Leicester

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  • Doctoral

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  • PhD



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