By Peter Szatmari MD
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Additional info for A Mind Apart: Understanding Children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome
2 gigahertz (better), 2 gigahertz (OK, but still not the best). Apparently, each has its own distinctive sound as it turns on, performs a function, and then turns off. The higher the pitch, the better the sound. Justin loves machines that make a whirring sound—videotape machines, washing machines (especially during the spin cycle), dryers, and vacuum cleaners. He was able to tell his parents well before anybody else noticed that their outboard motor at the cottage was running on only two cylinders and should be repaired.
A third hypothesis is that these behaviors actually represent a type of OCD. It’s true that people with OCD perform many rituals and engage in repetitive activities as well. OCD is an anxiety disorder, and there are many similarities between ASD and OCD, but these are more apparent than real. People often say that a child with autism is “obsessed” with spinning wheels. This is not precisely true. A true obsession is experienced as uncomfortable, recognized as nonsensical by the person enacting the behavior.
In contrast, people with autism and AS pay more attention to the figure and ignore the background. The Embedded Figures Test clearly illustrates this ability. The person taking the test looks at pictures composed of many dots. Those who don’t have ASD tend to realize that some of the dots make up a recognizable figure only upon looking very closely. Much more quickly than the rest of us, people with autism see those figures embedded in what, at first, looks like a meaningless tangle of dots. Frith and Happe interpret this ability as a preference for local information processing over global processing.