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Child Dev. 2002 Mar-Apr;73(2):345-58.

Neurocognitive function and joint attention ability in young children with autism spectrum disorder versus developmental delay.

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Center on Human Development and Disability, University of Washington, Seattle 98195, USA.


Studies have shown that young children with autism are not impaired on prefrontal tasks relative to what would be expected for their mental age, raising questions about the executive dysfunction hypothesis of autism. These studies did not include ventromedial prefrontal tasks, however. The present study examined whether young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are impaired on ventromedial prefrontal tasks, and whether performance on such tasks is correlated with a core autism symptom, joint attention ability. Seventy-two 3- to 4-year-old children with ASD, 34 3- to 4-year-old developmentally delayed children, and 39 12- to 46-month-old typically developing children, matched on mental age, were administered ventromedial and dorsolateral prefrontal tasks and joint attention tasks. Children with ASD performed similarly to comparison groups on all executive function tasks, indicating that at this early age, there is no autism-specific pattern of executive dysfunction. Ventromedial, but not dorsolateral, prefrontal task performance was strongly correlated with joint attention ability, however. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is hypothesized to play a role in the development of joint attention and possibly some aspects of the autistic syndrome.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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