Friday, May 16, 2008
Champagne Terrace/Bordeaux (Novotel London West)
Background: Children with autism show difficulties in categorization. Recent data suggest that categorizing an object by its function generates a covert motor representation of the goal-directed action evoked by the object. It has been suggested that children with autism show a reduction in covert motor activation in social-cognitive tasks, and this has been related to their social-communicative deficit. Therefore it can be hypothesized that a common mechanism underlies difficulties in function-based categorization and social communication in autism. Objectives: This study evaluates 2 hypotheses: (1) Children with autism, compared with typically developing children, will demonstrate a reduced tendency to categorize objects by function and an increased tendency to categorize by physical form (2) In both groups the tendency to categorize objects by function rather than physical form will be related to better social-communication abilities Methods: 8- to 12-year old children with autism and typically developing participants matched for IQ and age were asked to give clues about the identity of a hidden object to an adult partner, who guessed what the object was. Each participant gave clues for 15 objects. A trained coder blind to diagnosis coded participants' descriptions as referring to the object's function or physical form. We collected a series of measures of social-cognitive abilities including standardized parent-report questionnaires, imitative tasks and eye-tracking measures of attention to another person's face. Results: Preliminary data suggest that children with autism, relative to the typically-developing group, show an increase in physical form descriptions and a decrease in function descriptions. Physical form descriptions were negatively correlated with measures of social abilities: Children who use less function-based categorization in this task are those who have poorer social abilities, including problems with imitation. Conclusions: Difficulties in categorization in autism concern a specific categorization mode, e.g. function-based categorization. Function-based categorization may share common mechanisms with social-cognition.