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Aim

To identify whether executive functioning mediates the effect of having unilateral cerebral palsy (CP) on executive functioning in everyday life, psychological functioning, and social functioning.

Method

A cross-sectional cohort of 46 children with unilateral CP (25 males, 21 females; mean age 11y 1mo, SD 2y 5mo; 24 right-sided, 22 left-sided) and 20 children with typical development (nine males, 11 females; mean age 10y 10mo, SD 2y 4mo). Cognitive executive functioning was tested using a neuropsychological battery. Executive functioning in everyday life was measured with the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF; teacher and parent reports) and psychological and social functioning by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Analysis included analysis of covariance and bootstrapping.

Results

Children with unilateral CP were found to have significantly decreased functioning, compared with children with typical development, on the BRIEF Behavioral Regulation Index, the BRIEF Metacognition Index, and on the SDQ emotion, conduct, hyperactivity, and peer problems subscales. Group differences were mediated by cognitive executive functioning for the BRIEF Metacognition Index (teacher and parent report), the BRIEF Behavioral Regulation Index (parent report only), the SDQ conduct subscale, and the SDQ hyperactivity subscale.

Interpretation

This study suggests that the increased risk of children with unilateral CP experiencing executive functioning difficulties in everyday life, conduct problems, and hyperactivity can be partly explained by decreased cognitive executive functioning abilities relative to children with typical development.