|Design & Intelligence Laboratory|
Thinking in Pictures as a cognitive account of autismProject Members: Maithilee Kunda, Ashok Goel
We are developing a cognitive model of autism centered around visual representations and processing, an account that we believe could lead to new and improved paradigms for communication and education within the autism community.
Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by atypical behavioral manifestations in three different areas: social interaction, communication, and stereotyped or repetitive patterns of behavior and interests . Classic autism (also known as Autistic Disorder or Kanner autism) is one of several related conditions that comprise Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), also known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs).
While the specific causes of autism are not known, an etiological framework (shown below, adapted from ) has been traced out that leads from genetic and possibly environmental factors, through neurobiological development and cognitive functioning, and finally to behavioral manifestations.
Many theories have attempted to give a cogent account of the changes in cognitive function that lead to the behavioral characteristics of autism (see [3-5] for three prominent examples). However, many individuals on the autism spectrum have given introspective descriptions that are quite different. One of the most famous is the account by Temple Grandin in her book Thinking in Pictures . Grandin, a high-functioning adult with autism, states that her mental representations are predominantly visual, i.e. that she thinks in pictures, and that this representational bias affects how she performs a range of cognitive operations, from conceptual categorization to the interpretation of complex social cues.
While Grandin's account of visual thinking has been primarily an introspective study, we aim to show that the Thinking in Pictures hypothesis does, in fact, represent a very powerful way to look at cognition in autism.
Some questions we hope to answer in the course of investigating the "Thinking in Pictures" hypothesis include: