The Treatment of Autism as an Information Processing Disorder Mark Collins
University of the Rockies
Dr. Robert Wolf
August 1, 2010
This paper examines some of the research and theories related to the neurological, sensorimotor, and memory functions in individuals with autism and autism spectrum disorders. It examines data associated with dysfunction within four neural mechanisms in the brain of those with ASD, along with research findings that have attempted to identify specific areas of brain related to the impairments of learning and memory capabilities. Furthermore, it explores theories hypothesizing autism as an information processing disorder, and presents the predominant conventional treatment approach, as well as an unconventional methodology utilizing computers.
The Treatment of Autism as an Information Processing Disorder The role of neural mechanisms in the brain in autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has changed over the last 40 years as the disorders have become better understood. Autism was once seen as being basically psychogenic in origin and focused on early developmental and environmental causation (Kanner, 1943), later being discarded in favor of neurobehavioral models in the 1970s and 80s. These theories hypothesized that brain dysfunction was the sponsoring factor related to social, language, and behavioral symptomatology in autism, with ASD in effect being defined as a type of amnesiac disorder (Boucher & Warrington, 1976). Biopsychological and biological theories are now ascendant, with symptoms related to cognitive and language deficits sponsoring hypotheses attempting to locate the source of motor impairments in the brain. In some senses, researchers have some advantages as the brain physiology in normal individuals is fairly well understood, though there is no one prevailing theory endorsed by all as to how these function in ASD, partially due to the broadness of the diagnostic spectrum and variance in individual’s levels of functioning. Current thinking regarding biopsychological factors subscribe to the notion that autism is related to functional impairments of the brain, though there is a divergence of opinion as to the responsible systems and mechanisms. Hypotheses postulating that autism as having a varied neurological base seem promising (Deborah, Margaret, Edith, Dorothy, & Lynn, 1984), and this paper examines research studies supporting this contention related to the neurological, sensorimotor, and memory functions of adults and children diagnosed with autism and ASD. Understanding these mechanisms may lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the disorder, but also how to more effectively apply physical, psychological, and occupational treatment interventions.
Neurological Functioning in Autism
For genetic syndromes, the assumption often is that they have a hereditary basis with either a family history of the disorder or family members exhibiting some the features. It is suspected that autism and ASD have a multi-gene basis, with indistinct though notable deficits in families (Spiker 1994). These include abnormal levels of serotonin, conversation skill deficits and cognitive and language deficits and a high number of affective disorders (Baird & August, 1985). Speculation regarding a multi-gene source is that each gene may exert an indeterminate effect that is interrelated and cumulative in nature. Furthermore, less severe aspects of autism may not be seen as problematic, as in the use of extended selective attention related to visual search and pattern detection (Kinsbourne, 1987). Dysfunction within four neural mechanisms
Abnormalities and dysfunction within four neural mechanisms is hypothesized as having causal significance in terms of autistic behaviors and etiology of autistic spectrum disorders. The first dysfunction involves...