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Title: Early social understanding in preschool children with autism
Author: Griffin, R.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2010
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This thesis explores early-emerging components of social cognition in preschool children with autism. The autism group (ASC) is compared to a language delayed group and a typically developing group. The groups are matched on chronological age and non-verbal mental age. Mean ages ranged from 35.2 to 37.8 months. The first set of experiments examines the processing of biological and goal-directed motion patterns, using animated geometric shapes as stimuli. The second set of experiments investigates the processing of information from faces, including emotional referencing, prototype discrimination and gaze cueing. The prevalence of repetitive and ritualistic behaviour is also investigated. Results indicate that preschool children with ASC show intact processing of biological/purposive motion patterns and are not merely sensitive to lower-level properties such as contingent interaction of self-propelled movement. However, a bias toward perceptual-level encoding and local processing may interfere with the prediction of goal-directed motion in some instances. Results from the three experiments on face and emotion processing suggest that preschool children with ASC do not use emotional expressions as a source of information even though they are able to discriminate between prototypical expressions of emotion and impose similar categorical boundaries as controls. The results from gaze cueing study indicate abnormalities in the processing of eyes. The prevalence of repetitive and ritualistic behaviour does not appear to clearly distinguish preschool children with ASC from controls. A close analysis of the individuals from the ASC group within and across tasks suggests that the experiments are tapping specialised mechanisms and that impaired sensitivity to context and shallow processing of eyes are common in young children with Autism. An alternative framework for investigating the development of ‘theory of mind’ is introduced.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available