Autism: A Very Short Introduction

Publish Date
Sep 12, 2021
牛津通识读本 | 孤独症 by Uta Frith, published by Oxford University Press 关于 牛津通识读本


  • Neurotypical or NT: an abbreviation of neurologically typical, is a neologism widely used in the autistic community as a label for non-autistic people.
  • Autism spectrum: overall prevalence: 1%
    • Class Autism: 0.3%
    • mild autism / high-functioning / Asperger syndrome: 0.7%


ASD features

  • In a world of his own (lack reciprocal social interaction)
  • Unable to communicate. different levels ( severe → middle ASD spectrum):
    • speak late and the use of language is extremely limited (use language if he wants something, but not to express feeling or thoughts)
    • impossible to know whether people make jokes or other meaning behind languages
    • does not enjoy ordinary chitchat. (unable to engage in a conversation)
  • Restricted and repetitive (repetitive activities and narrow interests)

When does autism start?

  • Normal children begin to develop joint attention from the beginning of second year. People with ASD don't.
  • regression or lack of progress, often in secondary year.
  • biology: bigger brains (pruning overgrowth in the developing brain)

Social communication

The big three (or five) ideas

Mindblindness idea

Unable to read minds / mentalizing in the brain.

Lack of social drive (Not driven to be social)

no or less eye contact.
When watching film scenes (with two actors gazing each other), People with ASD are more likely to look at the the mouth (Normal people will focus on eyes)

Lack of the human mirror system

Experiments show that There was same activity in the exact same brain cell, when the monkey saw that action being performed by an experimenter, say grasping a peanut, or then he grasped the peanut himself. It's the foundation of empathy.
Yawn contagion is LESS in people with ASD.

Weak central coherence

People with ASD perceive the world in a detail-focused processing style. while normal people be aware of and influenced by the whole system / context.

Trouble at the top

top → down: the control in mind. broken in people with ASD.
down → top: perception processing
People with ASD:
  • lack of inhibition and will be easily captured by incidentals.
  • weak Frontal Lobe (额叶) functioning

Language and communication

  • An autistic person can not tell the difference between interacting with a cache machine and interacting with another person. → lack of social drive
    • the communication never gets off the ground due to lack of social motivation.
  • Communications is truly reciprocal interaction, more than just asking and answering questions. We always probe how much our conversation partner has understood, how much he or she has been persuaded by us. We would not do this when faced with a machine. → Mindblindness idea
    • people with autism don't see the point in gossip / banter / joke / irony. Their use of languages is geared only to the exchange of information itself.
    • You only with to communicate if you are aware that what is in your mind is interesting different from what is in the mind of the other person.
  • We communicate not only by talking, but also by the way how we move, our face / hands / the whole body language. → lack of mirroring of another person's feelings