The Development of Core Cognitive Skills in Autism: A 3-Year Prospective Study


  • This research was supported by the British Academy, the Experimental Psychology Society (UK), and University College, Oxford. The author is grateful to all the families for their continued support, and to Murray Maybery and Marc Stears for helpful discussions.

concerning this article should be addressed to Elizabeth Pellicano, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Centre for Research in Autism and Education, Department of Psychology and Human Development, 25 Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AA, United Kingdom. Electronic mail may be sent to


This longitudinal study tested the veracity of one candidate multiple-deficits account of autism by assessing 37 children with autism (M age = 67.9 months) and 31 typical children (M age = 65.2 months) on tasks tapping components of theory of mind (ToM), executive function (EF), and central coherence (CC) at intake and again 3 years later. As a group, children with autism showed poor false-belief attribution, planning ability, and set-shifting, together with enhanced local processing at both time points. At an individual level, however, the profile was far from universal at either intake or follow-up. Moreover, autistic children demonstrated significant changes over time in ToM and EF, but not CC, over the 3-year period. The challenges these findings pose for a multiple-deficits account are discussed.