Date of Completion
Autism, Executive Functions, Development
Inge Marie Eigsti
Field of Study
Doctor of Philosophy
Executive Functions (EF) are a set of cognitive processes that direct and regulate behavior for the purpose of future goal attainment. These processes include working memory, inhibition, cognitive flexibility, planning, and fluency. Previous research has delineated impairments in individual processes of EF that may be related to the core social and communicative deficits typically found in children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). This line of research thus far has yielded mixed results, and further clarification is needed to determine if EF are directly related to clinical measures of ASD symptoms. Understanding the development of EF is critical, as measures of EF have been used to positively predict mathematical and reading ability, and academic and social functioning. While trajectories of EF development have been studied in typically developing children, few studies have examined predictors of EF in ASDs. Studies that have examined predictors of outcome in children with ASDs suggest that motor and language development may be important developmental markers of later functioning. The current study examined early predictors of EF and the concurrent development of EF and ASD symptoms in a sample of adolescents with High Functioning Autism (n = 22). Participants were evaluated at three time points with developmental data collected at the approximate ages of 2 (Time 1) and 4 (Time 2) and measures of EF and ASD symptoms collected at age 9 (Time 3). EF measures collected at Time 3 included performance based measures and parent report of EF. Consistent with previous literature, largest impairments in EF were found on tasks of cognitive flexibility, planning, and simple memory and attention. There was very little overlap between parent report of EF at home and lab based measures of analogous processes. Tests of EF were inversely related to ASD symptoms and adaptive functioning. Lastly, in examining developmental precursors of EF, the current study found that motor functioning at Time 1 positively predicted performance across multiple tasks of EF.
Knoch, Kelley, "Early Predictors of Executive Function Abilities in School-Aged Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders" (2014). Doctoral Dissertations. 484.