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The self and autism: An experimental investigation.

Lee, Anthony; (1997) The self and autism: An experimental investigation. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

The development of the self is primarily dependent on a child's experience of her/himself in relation to others. A cardinal feature of early childhood autism is the child's deficient capacity for, and probably experience of, affectively patterned interpersonal relations. These considerations led to the hypothesis that young people with autism would experience and conceptualise themselves in ways that are qualitatively different from non-autistic people of the same chronological and mental age. This hypothesis was explored by a combination of clinical and experimental methodologies comparing matched autistic and non-autistic subjects: The evaluation of participants' self-descriptions through semi-structured interviews; the assessment of participants' self-depiction through drawings; and the investigation of linguistic self-reference through formal experimental studies of participants' personal pronoun comprehension and use. Broadly speaking, the results were in accord with the predictions derived from the above hypothesis. Young people with autism, although describing themselves with as wide a range of statements as their matched control subjects, were significantly less likely to define themselves in relation to others and significantly less likely to use social reasoning to explicate their statements about themselves. They did use a comparable number of physical, active and psychological based self-constructs as their matched counterparts. In the drawing tasks, the young people with autism produced drawings and copied geometric figures as competently as their matched controls, but showed significantly less differentiation among their human figure drawings (including those of the self) vis-a-vis non-human figure drawings in terms of their use of features to depict them. In the final set of tasks, designed to explore personal pronoun understanding and use, there was no group difference in the participants' comprehension. The autistic group, however, showed a relative propensity to use the pronoun 'I' rather than 'me' in certain visuo-spatial tasks, and those of lower ability tended to use proper names instead of 'me' and 'you' for themselves and the experimenter.These findings are discussed within the framework of a theory of the development of self-reflective awareness in normal and autistic children, with special reference to lack of engagement with other people by young people with autism.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The self and autism: An experimental investigation.
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Psychology; Autism; Experimental investigation; Self
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10099187
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