A theoretical approach to the deficits in infantile autism

Sally J Rogers, Bruce F. Pennington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

427 Scopus citations


Deficits specific to the syndrome of infantile autism appear in imitation, emotion sharing, theory of mind, pragmatics of communication, and symbolic play. Current competing theories of Hobson and of Baron-Cohen, Frith, and associates account for some, but not all, of these specific deficits. The present article suggests that early social capacities involving imitation, emotion sharing, and theory of mind are primarily and specifically deficient in autism. Further, these three capacities involve forming and coordinating social representations of self and other at increasingly complex levels via representational processes that extract patterns of similarity between self and other. Stern's theory of interpersonal development is offered as a continuous model for understanding the development and deficits of the autistic child and as a means for integrating competing theories about the primary deficits in autism. Finally, the article suggests a neuropsychological model of interpersonal coordination involving prefrontal cortex and executive function capacities that is consistent with the social deficits observed in autism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)137-162
Number of pages26
JournalDevelopment and Psychopathology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1991
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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