Current trends in psychological research on children with high-functioning autism and Asperger disorder

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Abstract

Purpose of review

This review explores current trends in the literature during 2004 on psychological studies of children with high-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome. Studies are reviewed that examine diagnostic dilemmas and methodological concerns, cognitive and social deficits, and interventions.

Recent findings

There is considerable debate over the distinction between high-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome, but few studies find support for separate disorders. Most studies reviewed combine high-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome into an autism spectrum disorder group or study only one diagnostic group, either high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome. Research into cognitive processes (specifically mentalizing) and social understanding (nonliteral language) continue to dominate research efforts. Current studies suggest specific weaknesses in many areas of nonliteral language, such as humor, irony, and teasing. Studies rely heavily on current theoretical explanations for deficits, namely the central coherence, social inference, and executive function theories, and varying levels of support were found for all three theories. Intervention and outcome studies lag behind experimental and theoretical studies, but two studies employed scientifically rigorous intervention designs with promising results.

Summary

Children with high-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome have a great deal of potential with respect to long-term developmental outcomes, and yet they continue to be understudied and under-served in current intervention programs. Future studies are needed in developmental processes and outcomes in this population, and in the development of effective treatment strategies that have undergone scientifically rigorous testing.

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