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Executive functions (EF) drive health and educational outcomes and therefore are increasingly common treatment targets. Most treatment trials rely on questionnaires to capture meaningful change because ecologically valid, pediatric performance-based EF tasks are lacking. The Executive Function Challenge Task (EFCT) is a standardized, treatment-sensitive, objective measure which assesses flexibility and planning in the context of provocative social interactions, making it a “hot” EF task.
We investigate the structure, reliability, and validity of the EFCT in youth with autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder; n = 129), or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with flexibility problems (n = 93), and typically developing (TD; n = 52) youth.
The EFCT can be coded reliably, has a two-factor structure (flexibility and planning), and adequate internal consistency and consistency across forms. Unlike a traditional performance-based EF task (verbal fluency), it shows significant correlations with parent-reported EF, indicating ecological validity. EFCT performance distinguishes youth with known EF problems from TD youth and is not significantly related to visual pattern recognition, or social communication/understanding in autistic children.
The EFCT demonstrates adequate reliability and validity and may provide developmentally appropriate, treatment-sensitive, and ecologically valid assessment of “hot” EF in youth. It can be administered in controlled settings by masked administrators.
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