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Brain Cogn. 2009 Dec;71(3):362-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2009.06.007. Epub 2009 Jul 22.

Executive functions in children with autism spectrum disorders.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, London SE5 8AF, United Kingdom.


Executive dysfunction is a characteristic impairment of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). However whether such deficits are related to autism per se, or to associated intellectual disability is unclear. This paper examines executive functions in a group of children with ASD (N=54, all IQ > or = 70) in relation to a typically developing control group individually matched on the basis of age, gender, IQ and vocabulary. Significant impairments in the inhibition of prepotent responses (Stroop, Junior Hayling Test) and planning (Tower of London) were reported for children with ASD, with preserved performance for mental flexibility (Wisconsin Card Sorting Task) and generativity (Verbal Fluency). Atypical age-related patterns of performance were reported on tasks tapping response inhibition and self-monitoring for children with ASD compared to controls. The disparity between these and previous research findings are discussed. A multidimensional notion of executive functions is proposed, with difficulties in planning, the inhibition of prepotent responses and self-monitoring reflecting characteristic features of ASD that are independent of IQ and verbal ability, and relatively stable across the childhood years.

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