The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative
By Anna Remington and Uta Frith
January 21, 2014
We ask: Where has this intense world theory emerged from? Is it as positive as it purports to be, and what does it mean for autism?
In the past few years, a new theory of autism, the ‘intense world theory,’ proposed by Henry and Kamila Markram (1, 2), has attracted much interest from the popular press.
Two welcome features of the theory are that it promotes a more positive view of autism, and that the Markrams base it on a biological understanding of the disorder.
It proposes that autism is the result of hyperfunctioning of neural circuitry, leading to both feats of talent and a state of over-arousal. Journalist Maia Szalavitz describes this theory at length in the new online magazine Matter.
|Intense effects: Although the intense world theory of|
autism is theoretical, the therapies it suggests are real,
and may be just as likely to do harm as good.
Although we all yearn for an overarching theory of autism, and the idea is appealing, the theory has thus far received very little academic scrutiny.
We know all too well the damage that can result when researchers prematurely release a hypothesis into the public domain — for instance, the unsubstantiated claims of a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism.
Our particular concern regarding the intense world theory centers on drastic suggested treatments for individuals with autism, namely withdrawing stimulation during infancy.
The Markrams do not merely hint at such interventions, but explicitly spell them out. Yet if the theory is incorrect, these treatments could be damaging.
As studies of Romanian orphans have strikingly shown, insufficient stimulation and impoverished neuronal input in early development are damaging to children’s social, cognitive and emotional functioning (3).
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