I love the brain. And how the brain develops is perhaps the most interesting topic of study for me. I try to keep up to date as much as possible.
This article is pretty interesting. A lot of studies show a big shift right about that age - I should be collecting those studies, because they're the interesting ones.
The short version is that kids at three believe that what they think exists and what actually exists are inseperable - there's no concept of belief, or limited information. However, at five they are able to distinguish correctly.
This is a critical change. It's doable to realistically simulate a child of three, given certain linguistic allowances, but it's almost impossible to simulate an older child. It seems to me that along with this "belief" change comes the ability to comprehend plans, make plans, etc.
In short, I think this change is the acquisition of "multiple reality maps". I think that around the age of four, children acquire the ability to keep many "ideals" of reality in their mind, and to scope them correctly. "This is what mommy thinks", "If this happens, that will happen", and so forth. These are highly limited - they continue to improve over the next, oh, twenty years - but the core idea doesn't even really exist until then.
There's definitely a link between these new views and PEOPLE, though. I'm not sure what that means, but apparently "people" is a loose enough term that these links can be associated with flirty triangles, which implies the maps are linked to a concept of change or personality, or something along those lines...
Now, if the brain is created with swaths of subtly different cells, as posited last post, it could simply be a specific brain-altering element isn't readily available in children with autism, leading to a specific kind of pattern recognition being flawed. This would explain the fact that autism seems to cause simultaneous failure at several physically unrelated but functionally related points in the brain, rather than one specific physical point.
Of course, it might be the actual architecture of the brain's elements, rather than the elements themselves, which determine the type of task they perform, in which case it would be a different ballgame entirely.
Is it some kind of self-recognizing feedback pattern? I could see that: the brain learns how it works and sees similar functioning in others, learns how to represent it. Or is it an inborne pattern recognition system which only begins to function once the brain is "ready" (either chemically or conceptually)?
More importantly, is it the "secret" to advanced pattern recognition?
I would very much like to see a test which posits the same thing to apes, preferably while under brain scans.