Executive function predicts theory of mind but not social verbal communication in school-aged children with autism spectrum disorder.

Res Dev Disabil. 2018 Mar 13;76:12-24

Authors: Kouklari EC, Tsermentseli S, Auyeung B

BACKGROUND: The association between Executive Function (EF) and Theory of Mind (ToM) in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been mainly investigated using false belief tasks, whilst less is known about the EF effect on other ToM facets. Furthermore, the role EF plays in social communication in ASD is mainly assessed using parent-report EF ratings rather than direct assessment.
AIMS: The aim of this study was to shed more light on the effect of performance-based EF measures on ToM and social communication in middle childhood in ASD relative to neurotypical controls.
METHODS AND PROCEDURES: Cross-sectional data were collected from 64 matched, school-aged children with and without ASD (8-12 years old), tested on measures of EF (inhibition, working memory, cognitive flexibility), ToM mental state/emotion recognition and social verbal communication.
OUTCOMES AND RESULTS: Significant group differences were observed only in selective EF skills (inhibition &cognitive flexibility) and social verbal communication. EF working memory contributed to the explained variance of ToM but not social verbal communication in middle childhood.
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: These findings suggest that EF and ToM are still associated in middle childhood and EF may be a crucial predictor of ToM across childhood in ASD. Implications are discussed regarding the social-cognitive impairment relationship in ASD.

PMID: 29547763 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

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