First Advisor

Brewer, Robin D.

Second Advisor

Omdal, Stuart

Date Created


Embargo Date



In this study, beginning with a comprehensive review of the evidence-based literature, I employed a qualitative, grounded theory methodology, interpreted within Social Constructivism to explore the perceptions of 17 adults with autism spectrum disorders for their thoughts on the topics of intelligence, cognition, and sensory processing. Using a three-stage coding procedure, I arrived at 52 initial categories that narrowed and condensed into one foundational category and five primary categories supported by a number of secondary categories. Then, using the five categories of sensory, focus, memory, cognitive, and social, I arrived at a Theory of Sensory-Cognitive Difference that I believe to be superior to any existing theories that have attempted to explain autism through the years. The core elements within this theory suggest that significant sensory processing differences are filtered and interpreted differently. Focus, which is primarily, interest-based, then works alongside of a different memory system, that is prodigious in detail but narrow in scope. These combine recursively and are reinforced by a different cognitive processing system that specializes in hyper-focusing, recognizing patterns and anomalies, and analyzing pieces and parts to create and envision the big-picture. Combined, these differences contribute to a different sense of purpose and value that plays out most in the social arena. A variety of subcategories detail challenges and the struggles for those represented within the proposed Theory of Sensory-Cognitive Difference and these offer insight into a deeper understanding about the condition for those affected. Finally, the implications of this research suggest that existing cognitive-behavioral theories attempting to explain autism lack the breadth and specificity to capture the full range of cognitive and sensory difference that appears to be present for those in this study. The study concludes with a summary and a discussion that offers, recommendations, and suggestions for future research to expand on the value of the proposed theory.


Asperger, Autism, Cognition, Inelligence, Sensory, Social


293 pages

Rights Statement

Copyright is held by the author.