Memory has been described as both a weakness and strength in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). This conflict reflects the complexity and diversity of definitions of memory: much of human development involves memory functions, and these functions may differ on both the underlying neural circuitry and the type of encoding, storage and retrieval mechanisms needed. Everyday memory tasks for children include explicit recall and use of factual information (e.g. What is the capital of Washington State?), improved behaviour during repeated motor actions (e.g. riding a bike), or generalization of an event into a schema (e.g. ordering lunch at any restaurant). Whilst impairments in the medial temporal lobe have been proposed to play a role in autism (e.g. Bachevalier, 1994; Dawson et al., 2003; DeLong, 1992; and also Bachevalier, this volume, Chapter 2, Mayes & Boucher, this volume, Chapter 3), they represent but one of a number of phenotypes that are related to autism. Further, comorbid conditions such as impulsivity, anxiety, hyper- and hypo-sensory responses, fine motor impairments, oculomotor abnormalities, and seizure disorders found in subsets of children may further impair cognitive function and specifically memory.
Autism is defined by impairments in the areas of social interaction and communication and marked by the presence of a restricted repertoire of behavioural activities and interest.
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