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Child Neuropsychol. 2016;22(3):336-44. doi: 10.1080/09297049.2015.1005066. Epub 2015 Mar 3.

The role of executive functions in social impairment in Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Leung RC1,2,3,4, Vogan VM1,2,3,4, Powell TL1,2, Anagnostou E2,5, Taylor MJ1,2,3,4.

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a Diagnostic Imaging, Hospital for Sick Children , Toronto , ON , Canada.
b Neurosciences and Mental Health Program , Research Institute, Hospital for Sick Children , Toronto , ON , Canada.
c Department of Psychology , University of Toronto , Toronto , ON , Canada.
d Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education , University of Toronto , Toronto , ON , Canada.
e Bloorview Research Institute , Holland-Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital , Toronto , ON , Canada.


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by socio-communicative impairments. Executive dysfunction may explain some key characteristics of ASD, both social and nonsocial hallmarks. Limited research exists exploring the relations between executive function and social impairment in ASD and few studies have used a comparison control group. Thus, the objective of the present study was to investigate the relations between executive functioning using the Behavioral Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF), social impairment as measured by the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS), and overall autistic symptomology as measured by the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) in children and adolescents with and without ASD. Seventy children and adolescents diagnosed with ASD and 71 typically developing controls were included in this study. Findings showed that behavioral regulation executive processes (i.e., inhibition, shifting, and emotional control) predicted social function in all children. However, metacognitive executive processes (i.e., initiation, working memory, planning, organization, and monitoring) predicted social function only in children with ASD and not in typically developing children. Our findings suggest a distinct metacognitive executive function-social symptom link in ASD that is not present in the typical population. Understanding components of executive functioning that contribute to the autistic symptomology, particularly in the socio-communicative domain, is crucial for developing effective interventions that target key executive processes as well as underlying behavioral symptoms.


Autism Spectrum Disorder; Executive function; Metacognition; Social impairment

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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