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Executive Functioning in High-functioning Children with Autism

  • Miriam Liss (a1), Deborah Fein (a1), Doris Allen (a2), Michelle Dunn (a2), Carl Feinstein (a3), Robin Morris (a4), Lynn Waterhouse (a5) and Isabelle Rapin (a6)...

Executive functioning was investigated in 34 children (24 boys and 10 girls) with developmental language disorder (DLD) and 21 children (18 boys and 3 girls) with high-functioning autistic disorder (HAD) matched on Full Scale IQ, Nonverbal IQ, age (mean age 9 year, 1 month), and SES. The DLD group had a Verbal IQ that was 10 points higher than the HAD group. These children were given the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST), the Mazes subtest from the WISC-R, the Underlining test, and the Rapid Automatized Naming test. In addition, these children were given the Vineland Scales of Adaptive Functioning and the Wing Diagnostic Symptom Checklist in order to assess severity of autistic symptomatology. Results indicated that the only significant difference between the two groups on the cognitive tasks was perseverative errors on the WCST; there was no significant difference on total number of categories achieved or total number of errors on the WCST or on the other executive function measures. There was also significant overlap in the scores between the two groups and the difference in perseverative errors was no longer significant when Verbal IQ was partialled out. Executive functioning was strongly related to all IQ variables in the DLD group and particularly related to Verbal IQ in the HAD group. Although there was a relationship in the HAD group between executive functioning and adaptive functioning, as well as between executive functioning and autistic symptomatology, these relationships were generally no longer significant in the HAD group after the variance due to Verbal IQ was accounted for. The results are interpreted to indicate that although impaired executive functioning is a commonly associated feature of autism, it is not universal in autism and is unlikely to cause autistic behaviors or deficits in adaptive function.

Corresponding author
Requests for reprints to: Dr Deborah Fein, Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, 406 Babbidge Road U-1020, Storrs CT 06269, U.S.A.(E-mail:
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The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
  • ISSN: 0021-9630
  • EISSN: 1469-7610
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-psychology-and-psychiatry-and-allied-disciplines
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