Thinking in Pictures as a Cognitive Account of Autism

We analyze the hypothesis that some individuals on the autism spectrum may use visual mental representations and processes to perform certain tasks that typically developing individuals perform verbally. We present a framework for interpreting empirical evidence related to this “Thinking in Pictures” hypothesis and then provide comprehensive reviews of data from several different cognitive tasks, including the n-back task, serial recall, dual task studies, Raven’s Progressive Matrices, semantic processing, false belief tasks, visual search, spatial recall, and visual recall. We also discuss the relationships between the Thinking in Pictures hypothesis and other cognitive theories of autism including Mindblindness, Executive Dysfunction, Weak Central Coherence, and Enhanced Perceptual Functioning.