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Cognition and Development – Autism

1. What Is Autism?

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In this module, we examine what autism is and how it has been understood by researchers and medical professionals over the past century. We begin by discussing the current definition of autism as a developmental disorder in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), as well as considering Wing and Gould’s (1978) influential description of autism as a ‘triad of impairments’ encompassing impaired imagination, impaired communication and restricted interests. We then think about the work of Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger, two influential clinicians who first defined and diagnosed the condition of autism in the 1940s. Finally, we consider the prevalence of autism among the general population and conclude with some thoughts on the need for society to adapt to those of its members who have the condition of autism.


In this course, Professor Peter Mitchell (University of Nottingham), discusses the condition of autism. We begin, in module one, by asking what autism is before moving on, in module two, to examine the causes of this condition. Module three looks at the question ‘Can autism be cured?’, while module four examines whether autism is an affective or a cognitive condition. In module five, we think about different cognitive theories of autism. Finally, in module six, we take a closer look at a specific cognitive theory of autism, known as the theory of ‘weak central coherence’.


Peter Mitchell gained a BA (Hons) in Psychology and a PhD in Psychology at the University of Liverpool, UK. After that, he spent three years working as a postdoctoral scientist at Birmingham University. He is now serving as Professor and Director of Studies in Psychology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. Previously, he was Head of the School of Psychology in Nottingham UK. He has published around 100 scientific articles in leading international journals, has published six books and he is editor of the British Journal of Psychology. He has served as Chair of the Developmental Section of the British Psychological Society and as Chief Examiner for the Economic and Social Research Council UK PhD studentship competition. Before joining Nottingham University he worked at the University of Birmingham, University of Oxford, University of Wales and University of Warwick. He also served as visiting professor at McGill University in Canada.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Mitchell, P. (2020, February 20). Cognition and Development – Autism - What Is Autism? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Mitchell, Peter. "Cognition and Development – Autism – What Is Autism?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 20 Feb 2020,

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