Executive Functions in Young Children with Autism



The executive dysfunction hypothesis of autism has received support from most studies of older people with autism; however, studies of young children have produced mixed results. Two studies are presented that compare the performance of preschoolers with autism (mean = 51 months/4.3 years of age) to a control group matched on age, and verbal and nonverbal ability. The first study (n = 18 autism and 17 control) found no group differences in performance on 8 executive function tasks (A not B, Object Retrieval, A not B with Invisible Displacement, 3-Boxes Stationary and Scrambled, 6-Boxes Stationary and Scrambled, and Spatial Reversal), but did find that children with autism initiated fewer joint attention and social interaction behaviors. The second (longitudinal) study of a subset of the children (n = 13 autism and 11 control) from the first study found that neither groups' performance on Spatial Reversal changed significantly over the course of a year. The results of these studies pose a serious challenge to the executive dysfunction hypothesis of autism.