Do Planning Aids Help to Remember? An Investigation of Prospective Memory and Implementation Intentions in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Friday, May 18, 2012
Sheraton Hall (Sheraton Centre Toronto)
3:00 PM
A. Kretschmer1, M. Altgassen2, P. Rendell3 and S. Bölte4, (1)Technische Universitaet Dresden, Dresden, Germany, Rosswein, Germany, (2)Technische Universitaet Dresden, Dresden, Germany, (3)Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Australia, Melbourne, Australia, (4)Department of Women's and Children's Health, Astrid Lindgren Children's Hospital, Q2:07, Center of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (KIND), Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden
Background: The ability to remember future intentions like taking medication on time is an important ability in everyday life. It is referred to as term prospective memory. Deficits in the organization of daily activities in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have been related to impaired prospective memory performance (Mackinlay et al., 2006). Until now, only few studies addressed prospective memory in ASD, but empirical evidence indicates that individuals with ASD show impairments in prospective memory tasks (Altgassen et al., 2009; Brandimonte et al., 2011). To date, none of the studies targeted the question of how to improve prospective memory performance in ASD. Implementation intentions are planning aids that may work as strategies to enhance prospective memory by supporting encoding of the intention that has to be remembered at a later point in the future.

Objectives: The aim of the present study was to investigate, for the first time, the influence of implementation intentions on prospective memory performance in individuals with ASD. 

Methods: Twenty-seven adults with high-functioning ASD and 27 neurotypical controls parallel for age, verbal and non-verbal mental abilities were included in this study. Virtual Week, a computer-based game imitating a week with everyday life tasks, was used to test prospective memory performance. Half of the control and half of the ASD group were requested to use implementation intentions, while the other participants received standard prospective memory instructions. 

Results: Analyses of variance (ANOVAs) revealed significant group differences in prospective memory performance. Individuals with ASD completed less prospective memory tasks correctly than neurotypical controls. No significant main effect emerged for instruction (implementation intention vs. control). Further analyses indicated that significant group differences in prospective memory task performance can be eliminated by introducing implementation intentions. 

Conclusions: Results provide further evidence for reduced prospective memory performance in ASD. Importantly however, deficits in prospective remembering were eliminated when participants were prompted to form implementation intentions.

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