with Autism Found to Have Specific Memory Problems That May Underlie
Aspects of the Disorder
American Psychological Association
in spatial working memory and complex visual, verbal memory
may contribute to problems with social interaction, information
- If children with autism can't see the forest for the trees,
that may be partly because the burden of processing all those trees
once makes it harder to lock in the scene. Researchers at the
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs
Pittsburgh Healthcare System have found that children with autism
from other children in two specific memory capabilities. The research
is in January's Neuropsychology, which is published by the American
Psychological Association (APA).
including neurologist Nancy Minshew, MD, studied 76 children
from ages 8 to 16. Half were verbal individuals with autism, half
normal controls matched for age, IQ and gender. The diagnosis of
reflected social and communication impairments of the autistic type
along with restricted interests and patterns of behavior.
the children with autism, compared to the matched controls, had
poorer memory for complex information (many individual elements
complicated element) in both word and picture form. In essence,
children with autism found it hard to remember information if they
needed a cognitive organizing strategy to aid recall or if they
detect such an organizing element in the information itself.
authors speculate that, "People with autism don't have the
cross talk between brain systems -- the reasoning and the memory
systems -- that tells their brain what is most important to notice
or how to
organize it thematically."
children with autism also had poor working memory for spatial
information, or remembering over time where something was located
it was out of sight. Although working memory for verbal information
fine, a "Finger Windows" subtest of recall of a spatial
distinguished between children with and without autism. Spatial
memory depends on a specific region of the frontal cortex that is
to be dysfunctional in autism.
these two impairments, the children with autism did not have
global memory problems. They showed good associative learning ability,
verbal working memory and recognition memory. Because their memories
differed in only two specific ways, memory in autism appears to
organized differently than in normal individuals -- reflecting
differences in the development of brain connections with the frontal
Minshew, "If the brain does not, from the start, automatically
identify and store key information, that seriously impairs the capacity
to interact, communicate and solve problems. Children with autism
be easily overwhelmed by the complex information in most everyday
explains how these memory problems can affect behavior. "Typical
people automatically notice and focus on what's important or relevant,"
she says. "But because people with autism focus on details
they can't recall or respond to what most people think is important."
say some teenagers see a poster for a new movie about a small-town
romance. They talk about going to the movie and joke about the love
story. One boy, though, interrupts with how great it will be to
football film. Hearing this seeming non sequitur, the other kids
talking. The boy, who has autism, doesn't understand why they aren't
interested in what he is saying. He was responding to what he saw
the larger-than-life stars embracing, but the small background detail
a man in a football jersey.
and her colleagues believe that a growing appreciation of memory
deficits and their impact on social function in autism will extend
research beyond the traditional diagnostic triad of the social,
and reasoning problems. The Pittsburgh group has, in prior studies,
found autism-related problems with motor, sensory and balance systems.
"With autism, there seems to be a widespread problem with how
copes with or processes all types of information," Minshew
she urges scientists to look more broadly at the brain in autism
whatever causes such widespread involvement.
American Psychological Association. The American Psychological Association
(APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional
organization representing psychology in the United States and is
the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership
includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants
and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology
and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial
associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a
profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.
"The Profile of Memory Function in Children with Autism,"
Diane L. Williams, MD, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine;
Gerald Goldstein, MD, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System; Nancy J. Minshew,
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Neuropsychology, Vol.