Objective Several studies have suggested that objective deficits in the processing of abstract information in conjunction with an enhanced ability to process concrete information is a definitive characteristic of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, this cognitive imbalance is not necessarily clear in high-functioning autistic individuals who do not display absolute differences relative to typically developing (TD) populations. Thus, the purpose of this study was to identify this cognitive tendency in high-functioning autistic individuals using intra-individual cognitive comparisons. Methods The reaction times (RTs) of TD children, children with ASD, and children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) (n = 17 in each group, mean age = 11.9 years, age range = 9.8–15.8 years) were compared using the Which/How-to-Apply Tools (W/HAT) test, which consists of tasks requiring the adaptive use of novel tools and familiar tools in atypical and typical situations. Differences in RTs between the atypical and typical trials ([A–T]) were used to assess intra-individual cognitive imbalances. Results As predicted, the [A–T] scores of the ASD group were significantly higher than those of the TD group even though the RTs in the atypical and typical trials did not differ. Additionally, the [A–T] values were significantly higher in the ASD group than in the AD/HD group, which indicates that the cognitive imbalance was specific to ASD individuals. No significant interaction was detected between the trial and subject group. Conclusions The findings of this study demonstrate that a cognitive imbalance in ASD individuals may enhance the current understanding of the pathophysiology of this disorder, which is found in a range of individuals, including those with obvious cortical dysfunction to those with only intra-individual imbalances.
- Intra-individual cognitive imbalance
- Perceptual reasoning
- The Which/How-to-Apply Tools (W/HAT) test
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
- Developmental Neuroscience
- Clinical Neurology