This article is part of the Research Topic Autism Spectrum Disorders: From genotypes to phenotypes

Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 04 July 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00354

Intellectual development in autism spectrum disorders: new insights from longitudinal studies

Giacomo Vivanti1,2*, Josephine Barbaro1, Kristelle Hudry1, Cheryl Dissanayake1 and Margot Prior1,3
  • 1Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, School of Psychological Science, La Trobe University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
  • 2Victorian Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre, La Trobe University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
  • 3Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

The presence/absence of Intellectual Disability (ID) is considered to be the most critical factor affecting outcomes in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). However, the question of the specific nature of ID in ASD has received little attention, with the current view being that ID is a comorbid condition (i.e., one that is unrelated in etiology and causality from the ASD itself). Recent advances in developmental neuroscience, highlighting the importance of early exposure to social experiences for cognitive development, support an alternative view; that ID in ASD might emerge as a consequence of severe social-communication deficits on the experience-dependent mechanisms underlying neurocognitive development. We tested this prediction in two independent samples of young children with ASD (Ns = 23 and 60), finding that children with greater ASD severity at an initial assessment were more likely to present with poorer cognitive outcomes at a later assessment, irrespective of initial cognitive level. The results of this proof of principle study suggest that ASD symptom severity contributes to the extent to which the environmental input required to support “typical” brain development can be processed by the individual, so that the risk of developing ID increases as the number and severity of ASD social-communicative impairments increase.

Keywords: autism, intellectual disability, cognitive development, comorbidity, developmental cognitive neuroscience

Citation: Vivanti G, Barbaro J, Hudry K, Dissanayake C and Prior M (2013) Intellectual development in autism spectrum disorders: new insights from longitudinal studies. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 7:354. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00354

Received: 24 April 2013; Accepted: 20 June 2013;
Published online: 05 July 2013.

Edited by:

Andrew Whitehouse, University of Western Australia, Australia

Reviewed by:

Wendy Heller, University of Illinois, USA
Sue Woolfenden, Sydney Children’s Hospital, Australia
Amelia Walter, Academic Unit of Child Psychiatry South West Sydney, Australia

Copyright: © 2013 Vivanti, Barbaro, Hudry, Dissanayake and Prior. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Giacomo Vivanti, Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, School of Psychological Science, La Trobe University, Bundoora Campus, Bundoora, VIC 3086, Australia e-mail: g.vivanti@latrobe.edu.au

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