Preprint Concept Paper Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

The Autism Palette: Combinations of Impairments Explain the Heterogeneity in ASD

Version 1 : Received: 17 January 2020 / Approved: 19 January 2020 / Online: 19 January 2020 (04:53:42 CET)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Journal reference: Frontiers in Psychiatry 2020, 11, 1106
DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.503462


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a heterogeneous neuropsychiatric problem with a few core symptoms: weaknesses in social behavior, verbal impairments, repetitive behavior and restricted interests. Beyond the core symptoms, autism has strong association with other disorders such as intellectual disability, epilepsy, schizophrenia among many others. This paper outlines a theory of ASD with capacity to connect heterogeneous ‘core’ symptoms, medical and psychiatric comorbidities as well as other etiological theories of autism in a unifying cognitive framework rooted in neuroscience and genetics. Cognition is embedded into an ever-developing structure modified by experiences, including the outcomes of environment influencing behaviors. We introduce the hypothesis that autism is caused by deficits in component-based cognition and the internal learning reinforcing machinery. Specifically, we outline our Cartesian Factor forming autoencoder like model that supports cognition by breaking combinatorial explosion and discuss the cognitive and neural processes behind our model. The high dimensionality of sensory information poses serious problems, since the brain can handle only 7±2 relevant variables at a time making processes, such as the extraction and encoding of the relevant variables and their efficient manipulation critical. These processes are influenced by previous experiences and the internal reward system. In addition, large delays of distributed information processing should be counteracted by learned predictive models to synchronize sensory, proprioceptive, and cognitive signals and have timely and accurate model-based actions. Impairments in any of these aspects may disrupt learning and execution. Combinations of small impairments may allow the solving of low complexity tasks but may become visible if learned variables and the related metric are improper and imprecise, respectively, especially if their number is large. We claim that social interactions are amongst the most challenging cognitive tasks in terms of the number of variables involved. In turn, they are highly susceptible to combinations of small impairments. We consider impairments as the basic colors of autism, whereas the combinations of diverse impairments make the palette of autism. In turn, social processes can be spoiled in many ways and can lead to diverse comorbidities.


neuropsychiatric disorder; cognition; social behavior; dimensionality, reward; heterogeneity; autoencoder; components; genetic causes


BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES, Behavioral Neuroscience

Comments (0)

We encourage comments and feedback from a broad range of readers. See criteria for comments and our diversity statement.

Leave a public comment
Send a private comment to the author(s)
Views 0
Downloads 0
Comments 0
Metrics 0

Notify me about updates to this article or when a peer-reviewed version is published.
We use cookies on our website to ensure you get the best experience.
Read more about our cookies here.