Here are a number of ways of framing ways of thinking in autism.
- Autism has been characterized as a deficit in “theory of mind.“ Theory of mind means the ability to understand that other people will have different perceptions and thoughts than oneself, depending on their perspectives and experiences.
- “Weak central coherence” refers to limitations in pulling perceptions into a coherent and centrally organized whole; central coherence is also studied. This has conferred an advantage on people with autism in solving certain puzzle tasks, where putting together a whole coherent”gestalt” of what the puzzle is about can get in the way of seeing the quirky shapes of the puzzle pieces. Without interference from seeing overall patterns, one might do better at seeing the parts. For example, weak central coherence might make someone unusually good at playing “Where’s Waldo”.
- Social intelligence issues in ASD are heavily researched. A bias toward interacting with objects rather than with people has been attributed to a deficit in social intelligence.
- Researchers prominently including Simon Baron-Cohen have identified a tendency toward “hypersystematizing” as a feature of autism. This has been related to the idea that autism is “an extreme form of maleness” and has led to research on differences in in utero testosterone in autism.
- Many observations and some studies have found that some people with autism, under some circumstances, demonstrate superior perceptual and attentional skills. These are discussed on the Different Sensing and Perceiving page. Here is a remarkable must-see video called “Stephen Wiltshire draws Rome from memory.”
These questions about “autism and cognition” have led to a variety of types of brain and psychological researc, e.g., to investigate brain basis for these ways of thinking or to test models.
There are critiques of the above theories of autistic cognition from a variety of perspectives. Many from the neurodiversity perspective have criticized the Theory of Mind perspective heavily. some examples are http://iautistic.com/autism-myths-theory-of-mind.php and http://mirror.uncyc.org/wiki/Neurotypical_syndrome .