Exploring the neurocognitive basis of episodic recollection in autism.


Increasing evidence indicates that the subjective experience of recollection is diminished in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared to neurotypical individuals. The neurocognitive basis of this difference in how past events are re-experienced has been debated and various theoretical accounts have been proposed to date. Although each existing theory may capture particular features of memory in ASD, recent research questions whether any of these explanations are alone sufficient or indeed fully supported. This review first briefly considers the cognitive neuroscience of how episodic recollection operates in the neurotypical population, informing predictions about the encoding and retrieval mechanisms that might function atypically in ASD. We then review existing research on recollection in ASD, which has often not distinguished between different theoretical explanations. Recent evidence suggests a distinct difficulty engaging recollective retrieval processes, specifically the ability to consciously reconstruct and monitor a past experience, which is likely underpinned by altered functional interactions between neurocognitive systems rather than brain region-specific or process-specific dysfunction. This integrative approach serves to highlight how memory research in ASD may enhance our understanding of memory processes and networks in the typical brain. We make suggestions for future research that are important for further specifying the neurocognitive basis of episodic recollection in ASD and linking such difficulties to social developmental and educational outcomes.