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Weak Central Coherence in Autism Spectrum Disorder

“How can my spouse [with ASD] give me the impression that he’s listening to me, yet after the conversation, it’s clear to me that he didn’t understand what I was saying, because he doesn’t follow through with what I had asked him to do - and doesn’t even remember what I asked?”

Answer:

One of reasons this “lack of understanding” occurs has to do with “weak central coherence.” People on the autism spectrum have difficulty seeing the “big picture” – and this causes a problem when the listener is trying to process ALL of the information, in this case from you, his NT wife. NT wives often verbalize more information than the ASD husband can absorb in one sitting.

An inability to see the bigger picture refers to the detailed-focused processing style that is characteristic of the autistic brain. For example, when your husband on the spectrum is trying to recall information that you gave him in a conversation, he may not recall the gist of something (e.g., how are your thoughts are tied to your feelings, which then influence your behavior).

It’s very common for people on the autism spectrum to become fixated and overly-focused on a particular detail to the exclusion of most other details. This often impacts their understanding of the actual meaning of a situation or context (i.e., the individual gets stuck on a minute detail rather than pulling together different sources of information and grasping the entire situation).

When someone who can see the bigger picture looks at an endless row of trees, that person would see “the forest.” But an individual with weak central coherence can only see a lot of individual trees (or he may hyper-focus on the soil that the trees are planted in).

Traits of weak central coherence include:

  • dislike for disruption to an established routine
  • strong need for structure
  • ability to hyper-focus on one activity for lengthy periods of time
  • attention to parts of objects
  • difficulty with sudden change
  • insistence on sameness
  • uneven cognitive profile (including savant skills)


On a positive note, the ability to focus on details can also be a strength, as evidenced by individuals with ASD who show remarkable ability in subjects such as mathematics, computer science and engineering.

 

More resources:

 

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

==> One-on-One Counseling for Struggling Individuals & Couples Affected by Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

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