The Impact of Autism Spectrum Disorder on the Categorisation of External Representations

Beate Grawemeyer, Hilary Johnson, Mark Brosnan, Emma Ashwin, Laura Benton

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceedingpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The knowledge structures and reasoning processes that underlie the use of external representations (ERs) in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are not well understood. This paper compares the organisation of knowledge of ERs in young people with a diagnosis of ASD and an age-matched typically developing control group. ASD and non-ASD participants (twenty-eight in each group) were given an untimed ER card-sorting task. The ERs were based on representations used in educational software, for example graphs, charts, and text. Cluster analysis of the card sort task revealed similar clusters for both groups: maps, drawings, text, graphs and charts, and network and tree diagrams. However, comparison of the card sorts of the two different groups showed a difference in ‘basic level’ categories. While in the non-ASD group, maps and non-maps were the most distinctive category, analysis of the ASD cluster revealed, in addition, another ‘basic level’ category of textual representations. These results are discussed in relation to theories of information processing in autism. Our ultimate research aim is to develop educational software tailored to the specific needs of users with ASD. We wish to use our research results to inform requirements for the development of such educational software, in which ERs are able to support differences in information processing for individuals with ASD.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationExpanding the Space of Cognitive Science
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the 33rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, CogSci 2011
EditorsLaura Carlson, Christoph Hoelscher, Thomas F. Shipley
PublisherThe Cognitive Science Society
Number of pages6
ISBN (Electronic)9780976831877
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes
Event33rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Expanding the Space of Cognitive Science - Boston, United States
Duration: 20 Jul 201123 Jul 2011
Conference number: 33

Publication series

NameExpanding the Space of Cognitive Science - Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, CogSci 2011


Conference33rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society
Abbreviated titleCogSci 2011
Country/TerritoryUnited States

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are especially grateful to the study participants who willingly gave their time, and to their parents who gave consent for their children to take part in this study. The authors gratefully acknowledge Ashgrove School in Penarth, Brislington Enterprise College (BEC) in Bristol (especially the ASD unit), and Ralph-Allen School in Bath who enabled us to conduct the card sort study at their schools. Special thanks to Richard Cox for the original card sort, which was modified for our study. The support of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC, EP/G031975/1) is also gratefully acknowledged.

Publisher Copyright:
© CogSci 2011.


  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • categorisation
  • external representations
  • organisation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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