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Trends Cogn Sci. 2012 Sep;16(9):454-7. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2012.07.001. Epub 2012 Jul 25.

Executive function and developmental disorders: the flip side of the coin.

Author information

  • Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Department of Psychology, Birkbeck College, Henry Wellcome Building, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, UK. mark.johnson@bbk.ac.uk


Several common developmental disorders emerge during early to middle childhood (e.g. autism, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder) and are associated with impairments in executive function (EF). Contrary to the prevailing view, I suggest that, within populations at-risk, the association with EF is found because individuals with strong EF skills are better able to compensate for atypicalities in other brain systems early in life, and are therefore less likely to receive a diagnosis later in life. I discuss evidence consistent with this view from considerations of individual variability, neuroimaging, and genetics. To the extent that this view is correct, it offers hope for remediation of some later emerging symptoms, as evidence from typical groups indicates that training programs for EF in preschoolers may be effective in improving skills.

Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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