Autism: More on categorization

Categorization is not based on similiarities

Children with autism may not categorize based on similarities.

Categorization is often a task that children with high function autism struggle. A study by Church et al.  examined the theory that children with high functioning autism (HFA) may form and recognize categories differently than typically developing children. A dot pattern categorization task was used on both children with HFA and their typically developing counterparts. This task was used because to perform well, one must make decisions based on the overall similarity of items.

Researchers were specifically interested in the aspect of how children with HFA used average similarity information about a category to make decisions. The basis of the study was to examine family resemblance comparison, or, “the ability to treat objects as part of the same category based on their overall similarity to other members without my defining features or simple rules to indicate membership.” (Church et al, 2010)

It is known that children with autism spectrum disorder have trouble with perception. It is thought that perception is further affected by hyper-specific representations. This means information is represented on a very specific scale, which makes it difficult to notice similarities between objects or events.

Test results showed that children with HFA showed less sensitivity to items that were supposed to be categorized. This suggests children with HFA are not as likely to use overall average similarity when making categorical decisions or thinking categorically as their typically developing counterparts. Results suggest that many children with HFA do not notice average similarities when faced with categorical decisions.

These findings are important because difficulty categorizing information can negatively influence the way children with HFA process social information such as facial expressions or other cues that are crucial to one’s social functioning. Therefore deficits in social language are not solely due to problems with referencing but also stems from difficulties with categorization.


Church, B., Krauss, M., Lopata, C., Toomey, J., Thomeer, M., Coutinho, M., … Mercado, E. (2010). Atypical categorization in children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 17(6), 862-868. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from

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