Autism Spectrum Disorder is a
neurodevelopmental and cognitive dysfunction disorder that occurs throughout
childhood into adulthood. Many children are becoming increasingly diagnosed
with this cognitive disorder. The common characteristics of Autism Spectrum
Disorder or ASD include difficulty communicating, focusing attention,
difficulty with social interactions such as understanding facial expressions or
making eye contact (Benson, 2016). Another defining characteristics is
repetitive body movements or behaviors that can be inappropriate. Autism
spectrum disorder has several cognitive deficits two of them are executive and
emotional processing. It is important to understand the underlying cognitive
deficits that autism spectrum disorder presents as well as to diagnose the
early onset of autism spectrum disorder and find treatments that can enable a
person with autism spectrum disorder to maintain a normal cognitive function.
Some of the most prominent cognitive differences can be seen through the
neuropsychological differences are seen brain regions such as the prefrontal
cortex and the limbic system. These cognitive deficits can be noted in
literature, research and neurodevelopmental findings in Autism Spectrum

Executive processing

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Autism Spectrum Disorder contains one
such cognitive deficits: executive processing. Executive processes modulate all
other mental processing in cognition. Executive functioning include higher
order cognition such as decision-making through meta-analysis, critical
thinking, and problem-solving. According to Smith and Kosslyn (2015) cognition
is a process of understanding and storing information that is acquired through
mental processing such as executive processing and emotional processing
(pp.15). Executive processing occurs in areas of the brain such as the frontal
lobe specifically the prefrontal cortex.

Those with Autism Spectrum Disorder
there are some notable brain region differences than those without the
cognitive dysfunction. In a research study done by Gilbert et al. (2005) an
fMRI study was conducted to see how participants with Autism Spectrum Disorder
would perform during executive processing tasks. The prefrontal cortex is
usually active in executive processing tasks; however, in this study the researchers
found that the medial prefrontal cortex was activated during the procedures.
The two tasks “random generation task” and “alphabet task”, the random
generation task involved key-pressing whereas, the alphabet tasks involved
higher-functioning. The “alphabet tasks” had stimulus oriented, stimulus
independent, stimulus oriented switching and stimulus independent switching.
The results of the experiment showed that the group with autism spectrum
disorder have a different way of recruiting different brain regions, some of
the brain regions that were activated were the temporal, parietal and the
medial prefrontal cortex whereas, the control groups had the parietal and
occipital lobe activated during stimulus-oriented tasks. Those with Autism
Spectrum disorder have a different activation of brain regions in order to
organize thoughts and information into a meaningful way when performing
executive functioning tasks. 

In another similar research conducted
by Sparks et al. (2002) show that children with autism have enlarged cerebellar
volume and limbic system. The MRI scans included three groups of children, one
group consisted of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) children, a second group
included typically developing (TD) children, and the final group consisted of children
that are developmentally delayed (DD). Children with autism did have increased
volumes of several brain regions such as the cerebrum, cerebellum, right
hippocampus, left hippocampus, right amygdala, and the left amygdala whereas
the other two groups had smaller volumes of the same brain region especially in
developmentally delayed children (Sparks et al., 2002). Evidently, children
with autism have an increased volume in the both the right and left amygdala as
well as the right and left of the hippocampus. Both brain regions form parts of
the limbic system. The limbic system is involved in emotion, memory and
immediate survival needs. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder could have an
inability to regulate emotion and arousal; these findings indicate that there
is less volume mass in other brain regions due to the enlargements in the
amygdala and hippocampus, if so then the limbic system overall could also have
an increased volume in comparison to other brain regions such as the prefrontal
lobe which could impair decision making and emotional regulation in executive

Emotional processing 

The prefrontal cortex also regulates
emotion as well as the amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex; however, there
are several differences in emotional processing with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
According to Shalom (2009), he discusses four domains in which Autism

Spectrum Disorder affects one being emotion. Shalom argues
that emotion is Autism Spectrum Disorder differs on an integrative level of
emotion processing. Those with autism have different functionality in
integrating emotions from the amygdala into the prefrontal cortex. In people
with Autism Spectrum Disorder they have difficulty understanding emotions at a
physiological state or interpreting these emotions on another person. Shalom
argues that there is evidence of reduced blood flow into the medial prefrontal
cortex in low-functioning children with autism leading to the inability to
process social-emotional cues (as cited in Onishi et al, 2000). 

In another similar article, researchers
Rudie et al., performed a study in which 23 high functioning children with
autism had to perform face recognition. Each of the face presented six of the
basic emotions such as neutral, sadness, anger. As each of the faces were
looked at an MRI scan was conducted on each of the participants. The research
focused primarily on the amygdala specifically the bilateral amygdala seed and
the right pars operculais seed in the frontal lobe. Throughout the experiment
the participant with autism spectrum disorder exhibited lesser amounts of
activation in these areas as well as the parietal cortex. There was also less
integration and connectivity in the amygdala and the dorsolateral prefrontal

All of these neuropsychological
findings indicate that children with autism spectrum disorder have different
reorganization and mental processing as a result of the different brain volumes
and connectivity between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. Those with
autism perceive, integrate and segregate information differently. People with
ASD may have difficult reciprocating emotions or understanding social contexts
due reduced cortical functional activity and connections. Overall, Autism
Spectrum Disorder presents several cognitive dysfunctions involving emotional
and executive processing.



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