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Autism. 2009 Sep;13(5):523-38. doi: 10.1177/1362361309335716.

Set-shifting in children with autism spectrum disorders: reversal shifting deficits on the Intradimensional/Extradimensional Shift Test correlate with repetitive behaviors.

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Children's Research Institute-Neuroscience, Children's National Medical Center, Washington, DC 20009, USA.


Research examining set-shifting has revealed significant difficulties for adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). However, research with high-functioning children with ASDs has yielded mixed results. The current study tested 6- to 13-year-old high-functioning children with ASD and typically developing controls matched on age, gender, and IQ using the Intradimensional/Extradimensional (ID/ED) Shift Test from the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery. Children with ASDs completed as many ED shifts and reversal ED shifts as controls; however, they made significantly more errors than controls while completing the ED reversal shifts. Analyses on a subset of cases revealed a significant positive correlation between ED reversal errors and the number of repetitive behavior symptoms in the ASD group. These findings suggest that high-functioning children with ASDs require additional feedback to shift successfully. In addition, the relationship between set-shifting and non-social symptoms suggests its utility as a potentially informative intermediate phenotype in ASDs.

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