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Autism Research and Treatment
Volume 2011 (2011), Article ID 681627, 14 pages
Review Article

Autism, Context/Noncontext Information Processing, and Atypical Development

Centre for Mathematics and Physics in the Life Sciences and Experimental Biology (CoMPLEX), University College London, London NW1 2HE, UK

Received 29 October 2010; Revised 16 March 2011; Accepted 6 June 2011

Academic Editor: Johannes Rojahn

Copyright © 2011 John R. Skoyles. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Autism has been attributed to a deficit in contextual information processing. Attempts to understand autism in terms of such a defect, however, do not include more recent computational work upon context. This work has identified that context information processing depends upon the extraction and use of the information hidden in higher-order (or indirect) associations. Higher-order associations underlie the cognition of context rather than that of situations. This paper starts by examining the differences between higher-order and first-order (or direct) associations. Higher-order associations link entities not directly (as with first-order ones) but indirectly through all the connections they have via other entities. Extracting this information requires the processing of past episodes as a totality. As a result, this extraction depends upon specialised extraction processes separate from cognition. This information is then consolidated. Due to this difference, the extraction/consolidation of higher-order information can be impaired whilst cognition remains intact. Although not directly impaired, cognition will be indirectly impaired by knock on effects such as cognition compensating for absent higher-order information with information extracted from first-order associations. This paper discusses the implications of this for the inflexible, literal/immediate, and inappropriate information processing of autistic individuals.