Spatial Cognition in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Superior, Impaired, or Just Intact?

  • Jamie O. EdginEmail author
  • Bruce F. Pennington

The profile of spatial ability is of interest across autism spectrum disorders (ASD) because of reported spatial strengths in ASD and due to the recent association of Asperger’s syndrome with Nonverbal Learning Disability. Spatial functions were examined in relation to two cognitive theories in autism: the central coherence and executive function (EF) theories. Performance on spatial tasks, EFs, and global/local processing was compared in children with ASD and controls. While the ASD group had faster reaction times on the Embedded Figures task, spatial performance was intact, but not superior, on other tasks. There was no evidence for impairments in EF or in processing global/local information, therefore contradicting these two theories. The implications of these results for these two theories are discussed.

Key Words

Autism Asperger’s syndrome spatial cognition executive function central coherence 



This research was supported by a National Research Service Award (NRSA) #1 F31 MH12704 awarded to the first author. We a very grateful to the families that participated in this study. In addition, we would like to thank Elizabeth Griffith and Sally Rogers and her staff for help with recruitment. Finally, we thank the members of the DS team at DU for their support and help with data collection.


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of DenverDenverUSA
  2. 2.Department of EducationUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand

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