Weak central coherence, poor joint attention, and low verbal ability: independent deficits in early autism

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C. Jarrold, W. Butler, E. M. Cottington, and F. Jiminez (2000) proposed that weak central coherence is a primary cognitive deficit in autism and speculated that it may even account for theory of mind impairments. The current study investigated whether weak central coherence could account for deficits in 2 behaviors purported to tap capabilities fundamental to a theory of mind: joint attention and pretend play. Twenty-one children (ages 3-5 years) with autism spectrum disorders were matched to 21 control children on chronological age, nonverbal ability, and gender. Pretend play did not differentiate the groups. Weak central coherence, poor joint attention, and low verbal ability contributed significantly and independently to the prediction of autism group membership, a finding consistent with 3 independent cognitive deficits underlying autism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)635-656
Number of pages21
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2003


  • weak central coherence
  • theory of mind
  • autism spectrum disorders
  • pretend play
  • verbal ability
  • joint attention

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