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Open Access Opinion

Developmental heterochrony and the evolution of autistic perception, cognition and behavior

Bernard Crespi

Author Affiliations

Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6, Canada

BMC Medicine 2013, 11:119  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-119

Published: 2 May 2013



Autism is usually conceptualized as a disorder or disease that involves fundamentally abnormal neurodevelopment. In the present work, the hypothesis that a suite of core autism-related traits may commonly represent simple delays or non-completion of typical childhood developmental trajectories is evaluated.


A comprehensive review of the literature indicates that, with regard to the four phenotypes of (1) restricted interests and repetitive behavior, (2) short-range and long-range structural and functional brain connectivity, (3) global and local visual perception and processing, and (4) the presence of absolute pitch, the differences between autistic individuals and typically developing individuals closely parallel the differences between younger and older children.


The results of this study are concordant with a model of ‘developmental heterochrony’, and suggest that evolutionary extension of child development along the human lineage has potentiated and structured genetic risk for autism and the expression of autistic perception, cognition and behavior.

Autism; Development; Evolution; Heterochrony