Children with autism have different cognitive skills and weaknesses to other children. They find it harder to assess other people's thoughts and feelings and have problems controlling their behaviour but can be better at noticing details. However, there has been little research into how these skills and weaknesses change over time. Researchers from the Institute of Education in London studied 68 children when they were aged 5-6 and again three years later. 37 of the children had autism and 31 were unaffected. The children were tested on their ability to predict other children's behaviour based on their mental state (theory of mind), their ability to plan ahead and show flexibility (executive function), and their ability to make patterns from wooden blocks and search for shapes hidden in pictures (central coherence). The study showed that the strengths and weaknesses of the autistic children did not change much over time. However, not all of the autistic children had similar patterns of weaknesses with some being weak in just theory of mind while others were weak in theory of mind and executive function. The study also found that most of the children's skills in these areas improved over time - they were better able to plan, regulate and control their thoughts and actions and had a better appreciation of other people's thoughts and actions.
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