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Testing the Predictive Power of Cognitive Atypicalities in Autistic Children: Evidence from a 3-Year Follow-Up Study

Authors

  • Elizabeth Pellicano

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Psychology, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
    • Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE), Department of Psychology and Human Development, Institute of Education, University of London, UK
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Address for correspondence and reprints: Liz Pellicano, Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE), Department of Psychology and Human Development, Institute of Education, University of London, 25 Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AA, UK. E-mail: l.pellicano@ioe.ac.uk

Abstract

This follow-up study investigated the predictive power of early cognitive atypicalities. Specifically, it examined whether early individual differences in specific cognitive skills, including theory of mind, executive function, and central coherence, could uniquely account for variation in autistic children's behaviors—social communication, repetitive behaviors, and interests and insistence on sameness—at follow-up. Thirty-seven cognitively able children with an autism spectrum condition were assessed on tests tapping verbal and nonverbal ability, theory of mind (false-belief prediction), executive function (planning ability, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control), and central coherence (local processing) at intake and their behavioral functioning (social communication, repetitive behaviors and interests, insistence on sameness) 3 years later. Individual differences in early executive but not theory of mind skills predicted variation in children's social communication. Individual differences in children's early executive function also predicted the degree of repetitive behaviors and interests at follow-up. There were no predictive relationships between early central coherence and children's insistence on sameness. These findings challenge the notion that distinct cognitive atypicalities map on to specific behavioral features of autism. Instead, early variation in executive function plays a key role in helping to shape autistic children's emerging behaviors, including their social communication and repetitive behaviors and interests. Autism Res 2013, ●●: ●●–●●. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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