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Deficits in executive functions among youths with autism spectrum disorders: an age-stratified analysis

  • S.-F. Chen (a1) (a2) (a3), Y.-L. Chien (a1) (a4), C.-T. Wu (a1) (a3), C.-Y. Shang (a1), Y.-Y. Wu (a5) and S. S. Gau (a1) (a3) (a4) (a6)...

Abstract

Background

Impaired executive function (EF) is suggested to be one of the core features in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD); however, little is known about whether the extent of worse EF in ASD than typically developing (TD) controls is age-dependent. We used age-stratified analysis to reveal this issue.

Method

We assessed 111 youths with ASD (aged 12.5 ± 2.8 years, male 94.6%) and 114 age-, and sex-matched TD controls with Digit Span and four EF tasks of the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB): Spatial Span (SSP), Spatial Working Memory (SWM), Stockings of Cambridge (SOC), and Intradimensional/Extradimensional Shift Test (I/ED).

Results

Compared to TD controls, youths with ASD performed poorer on the Digit Span, SWM, SOC, and I/ED tasks. The performance of all the tasks improved with age for both groups. Age-stratified analyses were conducted due to significant age × group interactions in visuospatial planning (SOC) and set-shifting (I/ED) and showed that poorer performance on these two tasks in ASD than TD controls was found only in the child (aged 8–12 years) rather than the adolescent (aged 13–18 years) group. By contrast, youths with ASD had impaired working memory, regardless of age. The increased magnitude of group difference in visuospatial planning (SOC) with increased task demands differed between the two age groups but no age moderating effect on spatial working memory.

Conclusions

Our findings support deficits in visuospatial working memory and planning in youths with ASD; however, worse performance in set-shifting may only be demonstrated in children with ASD.

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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: S. S.-F. Gau, MD, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, National Taiwan University Hospital and College of Medicine, No.7, Chung-Shan South Road, Taipei 10002, Taiwan. (Email: gaushufe@ntu.edu.tw)

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Deficits in executive functions among youths with autism spectrum disorders: an age-stratified analysis

  • S.-F. Chen (a1) (a2) (a3), Y.-L. Chien (a1) (a4), C.-T. Wu (a1) (a3), C.-Y. Shang (a1), Y.-Y. Wu (a5) and S. S. Gau (a1) (a3) (a4) (a6)...

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