Memory tasks were administered to 14 high-functioning individuals with autism and 14 typically developing individuals matched on chronological age and verbal intelligence. The tasks consisted of free and cued recall of 15 semantically unrelated words in 3 encoding conditions: phonological encoding, semantic encoding, and a no encoding orientation. In both groups, semantic orientation led to better free recall than did orientation toward syllabic encoding or absence of orientation. In contrast, semantic cues at retrieval led to better cued recall than phonological cues in typically developing individuals, whereas both types of cue had the same effect in prompting cued recall for individuals with autism. These findings are incompatible with the hypothesis of an amnesic deficit and do not support the notion of executive or semantic deficits in the memory problems of autistic individuals, at least for those with a high level of functioning. It is proposed that these findings can be accounted for by enhanced phonological processing in autism. This interpretation is consistent with other findings of enhanced processing of low-level perceptual information in the visual and auditory modality in autism.
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