There have been many important advances in research into the nature of autism and, as a result, our concepts of autism have undergone a radical change (Rutter 1999). At one time, the prevailing view was that autism was an unusually early variety of schizophrenia that had been caused, in large part, by so-called
refrigerator parenting. It became clear that that was a wholly mistaken concept and that, instead, autism constitutes a neurodevelopmental disorder with a rather distinctive pattern of cognitive de¢cits, and that it is strongly genetically in£uenced.
Nevertheless, we are a long way from understanding the basic pathophysiology, and numerous puzzles and paradoxes remain. The aim of this symposium is to grapple with these issues, tackling the challenges from a range of di¡erent perspectives in the hope that a coming together of minds, and of different research strategies, may point the way ahead. My task is to set the scene by outlining some of these challenges in order to provoke us all to abandon the safety of our own research territory, and of the ¢ndings that are well established, in order to focus on the di?culties that are inherent in our favoured theories.
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