Theory of mind, central coherence and executive function in parents of children with autistic spectrum disorder
Introduction: This study investigates cognitive theory of autistic spectrum disorder.
Based on the argument that the disorder may have a genetic component to its aetiology,
cognitive characteristics similar to those associated with the condition are hypothesised
to be evident in the parents. Theory of mind, central coherence and executive function
are therefore investigated. Relationships between these three areas of cognitive function
are also explored.
Methodology: Nineteen parents of children with high functioning autism or Asperger
syndrome were compared with 18 gender-matched parents of normally developing
children, on measures of theory of mind, central coherence, and executive function.
Results: Executive function was significantly poorer in the parents of children with
autistic spectrum disorder, than in the control group; but theory of mind and central
coherence were similar across the two groups. Overall, 52.6 % of the autism group and
only 5.6 % of the control group fell below age and IQ weighted cut-off scores on the
Hayling and Brixton tests of executive dysfunction, A number of significant correlations
between test measures were found.
Discussion : These findings provide further support for the genetic argument and the
executive function theory of autism, but fail to support the theory of mind or central
coherence models. Possible interpretations of the significant associations between test
scores were considered in the light of previous findings. Methodological issues were
considered important. Limits of the executive dysfunction model as a stand-alone theory
of autistic spectrum disorder were also highlighted. Ideas regarding clinical relevance and
future research were discussed.