The expression of autism is highly variable between individuals. Their symptoms may be severe or mild; intellectual ability is impaired in some but unaffected or above average in others. Autism spectrum conditions are strongly heritable, but the precise genetic mechanisms underlying autism are still ill understood. Research within the Neuropsychology research group aims to contribute to a better understanding of the heterogeneity of the autism spectrum, using approaches from both cognitive and developmental psychology and quantitative genetics. Individual differences in autistic traits and related cognitive phenotypes are studied in clinical samples, relatives of individuals with autism and in the general population. Of particular interest is the atypical cognitive and socio-cognitive functioning in autism, including implications for imagination, special skills and reflexive thought. Moreover, the genetic and environmental influences on different aspects of the autism phenotype are studied in twin and family designs. For more details see the research pages of Rosa Hoekstra
and Ilona Roth
A significant body of evidence points to brain development as being primarily affected in autism spectrum conditions - neurological and psychiatric impairments typically manifest before three years of age and autism can be diagnosed around this age. Nevertheless, the precise timing and nature of changes that take place within the brain leading to the spectrum of social and communicative deficits, stereotypical patterns and disturbances of behaviour associated with autism, remain unclear. Unravelling the complex cellular neurobiology of autism is a major goal of our collaborative research programme into the 'Neuropathology of Autism', supported by Autism Speaks and the Autism Tissue Program (US). For more details see the research web pages of Payam Rezaie
, Paul Gabbott
and Research Highlights.
In a collaboration between researchers from the Neuroscience and the Neuropsychology research groups, we try to link the variability in pathology observed on the cellular level with variability seen on the cognitive and behavioural level in autism.