Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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Week 4: Explaining autism: mind and brain


In Weeks 1 to 3, you gained a picture of how the behaviour and thinking style of autistic people may differ from that of neurotypical people, and you have learned which of these key differences form the basis for diagnosis. But how and why do such differences come about? This is a question that scientists have tried to answer, offering explanations or theories about the psychology of autism (how the mind works), the neurobiology (structure and function of the brain and nervous system), and genetics (the influence of genes in a person’s physical and psychological traits, in this case making autism more likely to occur in some people than others). This week we will consider selected highlights of this scientific work. Notice that some of these studies consider relationships between different levels (psychology, neurobiology and genetics).

Now watch the following video in which Dr Ilona Roth introduces this week’s work.

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By the end of this week you should be able to:

  • understand key approaches to explaining autism
  • differentiate three levels of explanation: psychological, neurobiological and genetic
  • understand key psychological accounts of the autistic ‘thinking style’ and identify implications for everyday life
  • appreciate key ideas about brain and nervous system function in autism
  • appreciate the complex role of genetic influences in autism.

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