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The Psychology of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

            One of the unifying threads woven through the articles is the inextricable relationship between self and other, which incites interest into the world of autism. As Bargh and Chartrand (1999) discuss, nonconscious mental processing assumes a primary and adaptive role in self-regulation beyond that of conscious, intentional control. While the automatic link between perception and behavior may aid in detection and evaluation of nonverbal social cues, what is the nature of this link in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD)? Extant research suggests autism is associated with a disrupted mirror neuron system vital in development of theory of mind and empathy. In typically developing individuals, mirror neurons underlie imitation and facilitate translating another's behavior into an understanding of his/her intentions. As Bargh and Chartrand (1999) note, nonconscious mimicry "has the positive function of facilitating social interactions and increasing liking between people" (p. 468). A dysfunctional mirror neuron system may account for the deficits in social interaction and communication typical in autism. For individuals with ASD, the social world becomes a terrifying place, where social communication is not integrated into meaningful experiences. .
             Following research indicating children with ASD are minimally interested in human faces, individuals with ASD are perplexed by the social and affective aspects of language and the notion of the social world as desirable. To what extent does the innate desire for social contact shape our brain and mediate ideomotor activation? The automatic connection between perception and behavior facilitates social acceptance in group settings by shaping our behavior to be consonant with that of others. However, individuals with ASD lack such nonconscious and implicit processing of social information that otherwise occurs effortlessly.

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