By Peter Szatmari MD
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Extra resources for A Mind Apart: Understanding Children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome
To perform any new action, such as walking through the kitchen, we need to inhibit previously learned responses and generate a novel response to environmental stimuli and situations. In other words, we need to be able to take into account everything that is going on and relevant right now to decide how to behave as we walk through the kitchen. If on one occasion a child touched the stove on his way through the kitchen, deficits in executive function would make it difficult to inhibit that touching behavior each time the child walked through the kitchen.
The fence seems too long, and she runs along the edge shouting “Heather! ” But those shouts, which are now the only sound on the schoolyard that just a moment ago was so noisy, echo off into the gray emptiness of the sky. Finally she reaches the opening in the fence and rushes across the yard to her daughter’s side. Out of breath, she asks, “Heather, what are you doing, honey? ” Hearing a voice she recognizes, the little girl turns around and looks up at the mother. The corners of her mouth turn up slightly.
It allows the person to disengage from the immediate focus of attention in order to pursue a goal, taking into account all available information. In some sense, executive function represents the supervisory aspect of cognition. The ability to monitor one’s attention to attain a goal resides in the frontal lobes of the brain. It is a complicated cognitive skill and is composed of many constituent parts. One important part is the ability to shift attention voluntarily and effortlessly from one setting or stimulus to another.
A Mind Apart: Understanding Children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome by Peter Szatmari MD