Problem-solving styles in autism spectrum disorder and the development of higher cognitive functions

Paul A. Constable, Melanie Ring, Sebastian B. Gaigg, Dermot M. Bowler

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    The Vygotsky Blocks Test assesses problem-solving styles within a theoretical framework for the development of higher mental processes devised by Vygotsky. Because both the theory and the associated test situate cognitive development within the child’s social and linguistic context, they address conceptual issues around the developmental relation between language and thought that are pertinent to development in autism. Our aim was to document the performance of adults with autism spectrum disorder on the Vygotsky Blocks Test, and our results showed that they made more errors than the typically developing participants and that these errors correlated with performance IQ. The autism spectrum disorder group also required more cues than the typically developing group to discern the conceptual structure of the blocks, a pattern that correlated with Autism Diagnostic Observational Schedule–Communication and Imagination/Creativity sub-scales. When asked to categorize the blocks in new ways, the autism spectrum disorder participants developed fewer principles on which to base new categorizations, which in contrast to the typically developing group correlated with verbal IQ and with the Imagination/Creativity sub-scale of the ADOS. These results are in line with a number of existing findings in the autism spectrum disorder literature and confirm that conceptualization in autism spectrum disorder seems to rely more on non-verbal and less on imaginative processes than in typically developing individuals. The findings represent first steps to the possibility of outlining a testable account of psychological development in autism spectrum disorder that integrates verbal, non-verbal and social factors into the transition from elementary to higher level processes.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)597-608
    Number of pages12
    Issue number5
    Early online date2017
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


    • autism spectrum disorders
    • concept formation
    • convergent thinking
    • divergent thinking
    • inner dialogue
    • Vygotsky


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