Remembering Delayed Intentions in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders: A Comparison

Friday, May 18, 2012
Sheraton Hall (Sheraton Centre Toronto)
2:00 PM
M. Altgassen1 and A. Kretschmer2, (1)Technische Universitaet Dresden, Dresden, Germany, (2)Department of Psychology, Technische Universitaet Dresden, Dresden, Germany

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders often show deficits in the organization and coordination of everyday activities. They have difficulties with time management, preparation and sequencing of actions. These impairments in planning ahead have been found in standard laboratory-based prospective memory tasks (Altgassen et al., 2009; 2010; Mackinlay et al., 2006; Zinke et al., 2010). However, all studies on prospective memory in ASD and ADHD have used rather abstract tasks that do only allow a limited transfer of these laboratory-based results to participants’ everyday performance.


The purposes of the present study were (1) to directly compare prospective memory performance between individuals with ASD and those with ADHD and (2) for the first time, to apply an everyday-like, ecologically valid task.


Twenty-five adults with high-functioning ASD, 25 individuals with ADHD and 25 age- and ability-matched neurotypical controls were asked to work on standard prospective memory tasks as well as on the Dresden Breakfast task. The latter required participants to prepare breakfast comprising certain drinks (orange juice, tea) and foods (eggs, bread, etc.) following a set of  rules and time restrictions that constituted several prospective memory tasks (such as remembering to take the tea bag out of the teapot after 4 minutes).


Controls outperformed both clinical groups in the standard, laboratory-based prospective memory tasks. Regarding the Dresden Breakfast task analyses of variance (ANOVAs) revealed group differences in planning measures as well as general task performance and time- and event-based prospective memory performance. Overall, individuals with ASD and ADHD completed less tasks than controls and showed poorer planning performance. With the exception of time-based prospective memory performance, individuals with ASD performed poorer than those with ADHD.


Difficulties with planning and execution of complex tasks not only evidenced in standard, laboratory-based tasks as previously found, but also when using an ecologically valid, everyday-like task. Participants with ASD and ADHD were impaired in the intention formation and initiation phases of prospective remembering. These deficits were related to difficulties in planning, execution and coordination of the tasks (rule adherence, time, efficiency). Overall, individuals with ASD seem to show more deficits in planning and prospective memory than individuals with ADHD which is reflected in more severe everyday difficulties.

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