Executive Function & Autism

See also:    Cognitive Psychology   

Internet Resources

It is not necessary to explain how the other deficits in Executive Functioning, referred to earlier, are explicable in terms of this process but it can be done. In the same way, it may be possible to extend the process further to explain the perceived difficulties in Theory of Mind or Central Coherence tasks. We do not see these psychological abnormalities as being "the cause" of autism although they are sometimes described in these terms. Rather, they are symptoms of underlying psychological abnormalities, which may themselves result, in particular difficulties, which will modify the semi-automatic behaviours described above, or behaviours which are not otherwise directly related to these basic biochemically inspired phenomena. Finally, we totally accept that each person with autism is different. The “symptoms” described above are superimposed upon the characters of individual human beings who have their own personalities and characteristics, foibles, preferences and inconsistencies. In no way are we attempting to define real people in terms of chemically driven automata. We must also consider how each and every one of us is affected to a greater or lesser extent by such forces, which are difficult to explain.
Paul Shattock, Paul Whiteley
Alfredo Ardila, David Pineda, Mónica Rosselli
The present analysis attempts to ground the construct of EF in an account of problem solving and thereby to integrate temporally and functionally distinct aspects of EF within a coherent framework. According to this problem-solving framework, EF is a macroconstruct that spans 4 phases of problem solving (representation, planning, execution, and evaluation).
Philip David Zelazo
Elizabeth L. Hill
It is not clear whether a single executive process controls both implicit and explicit processes, or the implicit processes are regulated by a separate set of executive control having distinct neuroanatomical location and processing properties.
Rajendra Badgaiyan
Executive functions (EF) are central processes that are most intimately involved in giving organization and order to our actions and behavior.
Leslie Packer
This study examined executive dysfunction and its relation to language ability in verbal school-age children with autism. Participants were 37 children with autism and 31 nonautistic comparison participants who were matched on age and on verbal and nonverbal IQ but not on language ability, which was lower in the autism group. Children with autism exhibited deficits compared to the comparison group across all 3 domains of executive function that were assessed including working memory (Block Span Backward; Isaacs & Vargha-Khadem, 1989), working memory and inhibitory control (NEPSY Knock-Tap; Korkman, Kirk, & Kemp, 1998), and planning (NEPSY Tower; Korkman et al., 1998). Children with autism were less developed than the comparison group in their language skills, but correlational analyses revealed no specific association between language ability and executive performance in the autism group. In contrast, executive performance was positively correlated with language ability in the comparison group. This pattern of findings suggest that executive dysfunction in autism is not directly related to language impairment per se but rather involves an executive failure to use of language for self-regulation.
R.M. Joseph et al
Elizabeth L. Hill
Children and adults with EDF need more cues, organizing assistance, and reminders. Some cues can easily be incorporated into the environment. Other cues are strategies that the child or adult can learn. Visual cues to enhance organization; cognitive cues.
Leslie Packer
It is often assumed that pragmatic difficulties are caused by limitations of social cognition. This study suggests that difficulties in generating relevant ideas can be another cause of autistic-like communicative abnormalities.
Dorothy Bishop, Courtenay Frazier Norbury
Although EF can be studied in purely functional terms, consideration of concomitant neurological systems provides an important source of constraints on functional models of EF.
Philip David Zelazo, Ulrich Muller
Executive function/attention deficits were examined in children with Asperger syndrome, attention disorder and reading/ writing disorder and in a group of normal children. Neuropsychological tests as well as cognitive tasks measuring different components in the processing of information were used. The measures were divided into Mirsky's four components of attention, namely 'sustain', 'focus-execute', 'shift' and 'encode'. All abnormal groups differed markedly from the normal group on measures of executive function/attention. The group diagnosed as having attention disorder showed the most consistent difficulties. However, no specific marker of 'executive function deficits' that could represent the three different disorders was found.
Agneta Nyden et al
Reducing the definition of executive function (EF) to its simplest level, it is the ability to do all that it takes to keep your mind on what you are doing in order to accomplish a given task.
Diane Twachtman-Cullen
Executive Functioning is the brain's ability to absorb information, interpret this information, and make decisions based upon this information.
Alex Michaels
It is proposed that the particular difficulties for children of lower mathematical ability are lack of inhibition and poor working memory, which result in problems with switching and evaluation of new strategies for dealing with a particular task.
Rebecca Bull
In comparison with the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD, ADHD children with hyperactive-impulsive and combined type are more aggressive, impulsive, and unpopular and less often have comorbid internalizing disorders.
Rafael Klorman
A group of high-functioning autistic individuals was compared to a clinical control group matched on VIQ, age, sex and SES. Significant group differences were found on executive function, theory of mind, emotion perception and verbal memory tests, but not on spatial or other control measures. Second-order theory of mind and executive function deficits were widespread among the autistic group, while first-order theory of mind deficits were found in only a subset of the sample. The relationship of executive function and theory of mind deficits to each other, and their primacy to autism, are discussed.
S. Ozonoff et al
Previous research has found that people with autism generate few novel responses in ideational fluency tasks, and it has been suggested this deficit is a specific correlate of stereotyped/repetitive behavior. We assessed generativity in children with pragmatic language impairment (PLI) who showed communicative abnormalities resembling those seen in autism. We compared four groups: high-functioning autism; PLI; specific language impairment; and control. Generativity was measured using two fluency tasks previously shown to be sensitive to autistic disorder. Correlational analysis revealed a significant relationship between the percentage of correct responses on the fluency tasks and measures of communicative abnormality. It is often assumed that pragmatic difficulties are caused by limitations of social cognition. This study suggests that difficulties in generating relevant ideas can be another cause of autistic-like communicative abnormalities.
Dorothy V.M. Bishop, Courtenay Frazier Norbury
Although impairment in executive functions has been described in autism, there has been debate as to whether response inhibition is specifically affected. We compared four groups: highfunctioning autism; pragmatic language impairment; specific language impairment; and control. Inhibition was assessed using two subtests from the Test of Everyday Attention for Children, one requiring a verbal response and the other a non-verbal response. Although we found evidence of inhibitory deficits, these were neither specific to autism, nor linked to particular aspects of autistic symptomatology. Rather, they appeared to be associated with poor verbal skills and inattention. It is suggested that future studies need to control for structural language skills and attention deficit when evaluating cognitive deficits in autism. Reliance on control groups matched solely on vocabulary level or nonverbal mental age may obscure the important role played by language skills in executive functions.
Dorothy Bishop, Courtenay Frazier Norbury
Although brain injury can directly impair executive self-regulation, aspects of the environment and the presence or absence of support behaviors of others can reduce or amplify the neurologic impairment; interventions need to be context sensitive...
Mark Ylvisaker, Timothy Feeney
Together, these findings suggest that the combination of inhibition and working memory (as reflected in Conflict IC tasks) may be central to the relation between EFand false belief understanding.
Stephanie Carlson et al
Multiple regression analyses indicated that two inhibition tasks (Bear/Dragon and Whisper) were significantly related to theory of mind after accounting for age, receptive vocabulary, and planning. In
Stephanie Carlson et al
Both children and adults with executive dysfunction may have "issues" related to time. As just a few examples: some never get work done on time, some never start or are ready to start on time, some always seem to lose track of time and may forget to take their medication, some underestimate how long projects will take, some overestimate time intervals, and some don't even seem to know what day of the week it is! Helping a child or adult deal with time-related problems begins by assessing them to see if they have a particular skill or ability and are not using it, or if they are skill-deficient.
Leslie Packer
You can be truly smart and still struggle in life if you lack the ability to plan, organize time and space, initiate projects and see them through to completion, and you cannot resist immediate temptations in favor of later better rewards. When those capacities are damaged or underdeveloped, even people with intelligence and talent may flounder. They are often misunderstood as being willfully disorganized or lazy, possessing a bad attitude or, from a parental viewpoint, "doing this on purpose to drive me crazy."
Richard C. Saltus, New York Times
Executive dysfunction involves problems with planning and executing tasks. Sometimes the "simplest" tasks, such as grooming, are very difficult for autistics due to executive dysfunction. Since each person with executive function problems will exhibit different strengths and weaknesses, the methods for dealing with these problems vary quite a bit. The methods presented below work well for myself - they enable me to live independently in much the same way as a neurotypical. Without these methods, I would be unable to do this. I do believe they can be helpful to many other autistics, although any method chosen needs to be accepted fully by the autistic for it to provide help - and no single strategy will work with all autistics. In fact, some strategies, including some of mine, won't work with most autistics.
Joel Smith
Alex B. Morgan, Scott O. Lilienfeld
The majority of individuals with HFA, PDD-NOS and AS need assistance with all aspects of organization. In most instances, it does not get better with time, unless you explicitly teach these skills.
Diane Adreon
The foundations for learning are attention, memory, and executive function. While most parents would immediately have some sense of what "attention" and "memory" mean, they may never have heard of executive functions. And yet without these functions, so many aspects of our functioning would be impossible or significantly impaired. Executive functions (EF) are central processes that are most intimately involved in giving organization and order to our actions and behavior. They have been compared to the "maestro" who conducts the orchestra. But what are these processes? The whole topic is very controversial, but there seems to be a consensus that executive functions involve (at the very least): * planning for the future * the ability to inhibit or delay responding * initiating behavior, and * shifting between activities flexibly.
Leslie Packer
Functional magnetic resonance imaging revealed widespread areas, both prefrontal and more posterior, that differentially activated as a function of a trial's executive demands. Furthermore, areas that differed as a function of executive demands tended to lie adjacent to areas that were activated during the task but that did not so differ. Together, these data suggest that a distributed neuroanatomy, rather than a specific and unique locus, underlies this attention switching executive function.
H. Garavan et al
The central executive is both an important and poorly understood construct that is invoked in current theoretical models of human cognition and in various dysexecutive clinical syndromes. We report a task designed to isolate one elementary executive function, namely the allocation of attentional resources within working memory. The frequency with which attention was switched between items in working memory was varied across different trials, while storage and rehearsal demands were held constant. Functional magnetic resonance imaging revealed widespread areas, both prefrontal and more posterior, that differentially activated as a function of a trial's executive demands. Furthermore, areas that differed as a function of executive demands tended to lie adjacent to areas that were activated during the task but that did not so differ. Together, these data suggest that a distributed neuroanatomy, rather than a specific and unique locus, underlies this attention switching executive function.
H. Garavan et al
Our findings indicate that there are limited relationships between representational mental state understanding, executive functions, and symptom severity in autism.
Robert M Joseph, Helen Tager-Flusberg
Late-onset depression has been conceptualized as a neurologic disease. This view has been supported by studies suggesting that late-onset depression is associated with cognitive impairment and neurologic comorbidity that may or may not be clinically evident when depression is first diagnosed.Findings implicating a dysfunction of frontostriatal-limbic pathways in geriatric depression have led to the depression-executive dysfunction (DED) syndrome hypothesis. Subsequent studies suggested that DED has slow, poor, or abnormal response to classical antidepressants. DED is characterized by psychomotor retardation, reduced interest in activities, impaired insight and pronounced behavioral disability.
George S. Alexopoulos
BACKGROUND: Executive dysfunctions have been studied as a potential endophenotype associated with the genetic basis of autism. Given that recent findings from clinical and molecular genetic studies suggest that autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) could share a common pattern of heritability, we assessed executive functions as a possible common cognitive endophenotype in unaffected family members of individuals with either autism or OCD. METHODS: Five tests assessing executive functions (Tower of London, verbal fluency, design fluency, trail making and association fluency) were proposed to 58 unaffected first-degree relatives (parents and siblings) of probands with autism and 64 unaffected first-degree relatives of OCD patients. Results were compared with those of 47 healthy controls matched for age, sex, and level of education. RESULTS: In the Tower of London test, both groups of unaffected relatives showed significantly lower scores and longer response times compared with controls. No differences were observed between autism and OCD relatives and healthy controls in the four other tasks (verbal fluency, design fluency, trail making test and association fluency). CONCLUSIONS: Our findings show the existence of executive dysfunction in the unaffected first-degree relatives of probands with OCD, similar to those observed in the relatives of patients with autism. These results support and extend previous cognitive studies on probands indicating executive dysfunctions in autism and OCD. Planning and working memory processes could thus represent a common cognitive endophenotype in autism and OCD that could help in the identification of genes conferring vulnerability to these disorders.
R. Delorme et al
(T)here is plenty of evidence that executive function problems (self control) relate to the development of a theory of mind... theory of mind is necessary for achieving higher levels of executive control.
Josef Perner, Birgit Lang
In practice, the consequences of a ToM impairment or, in particular, the inability to profit from knowledge which implies that another person holds a false belief, would include misunderstanding other people's behaviour when it is based on false belief. More generally, the ability to make, and take into account, attributions regarding other people's mental states is crucial in interacting in a socially appropriate and sensitive manner. Difficulties in this regard have been reported repeatedly in case studies of patients with frontal lobe damage.
Andrea D. Rowe et al
Ultimately, any biological theory of autism will have to account not only for specific genetic abnormalities, but how such abnormalities cause brain damage of the type to cause the specific cognitive deficits reviewed above.
Simon Baron-Cohen, John Swettenham
10. The people at every Lost and Found department of every major store in your town greet you by your first name. 9. Your 5 year-old frequently stands in front of you and asks with concern, 'Hello Mom, can you hear me...
Leslie Packer
Because of my significant executive function difficulties, I have trouble organizing tasks, such as grooming or getting ready for bed. I also find myself needing to be reminded of certain things, such as going to work or remembering to eat. The format of these lists and reminders helps determine their success.
Joel Smith
If one looks closely at the false belief task, one can show that inhibition and planning are actually important skills that can be used to pass TOM tests.
Wilson Joe

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