What are the Core Deficits
Marian Sigman University of California, Los Angeles
The purpose of this chapter is to review a program of research aimed at identifying the central areas of disorder in autistic individuals. The identification of the disabilities specific to autism is important for several reasons. First, we need to understand the strengths and limitations of people with autism if we are to plan effective interventions. Although some intervention programs claim to have brought about nearly total remediation, most autistic individuals remain severely disturbed even with fairly intensive educational intervention. If core deficits are identified, these deficits can become the targets of intervention programs. Moreover, treatment programs are most effective that make use of the strengths of the participants so that the identification of intact abilities and interests in autistic people is important.
The study of autism also provides a perspective on normal development. The normal child develops abilities in various domains in an integrated fashion with one stage building upon the next. Although there is some variation across domains even in normal children, various abilities and interests emerge together so that development appears seamless. The domains of development are not so tightly interwoven in children with autism so that we can begin to see how much development in one domain depends on development in other domains. As an example, the deft handling of a sensorimotor task (such as using the end of a rake to obtain a candy placed in a long tube) by a child who has no verbal skills is convincing evidence that sensorimotor skills may be necessary but are certainly not sufficient for language acquisition.
The third source of significance of the identification of core behavioral deficits is the possibility that brain-behavior relations would be elucidated if