Resilience and Executive Functions in Children with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders

Friday, May 18, 2012
Sheraton Hall (Sheraton Centre Toronto)
3:00 PM
A. A. Altomare1, A. McCrimmon2, R. L. Matchullis2 and K. Jitlina2, (1)School and Applied Child Psychology, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada, (2)University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada
Background: Executive functions (EFs) are complex neuropsychological processes that include planning, cognitive and behavioural flexibility, inhibition, selective attention, and working memory. Researchers investigating EFs in children with High-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders (HFASDs) have identified significant impairments in this domain. However, the link between cognitive flexibility, social deficits, and resiliency in children has yet to be examined. Given that cognitive flexibility is theorized to be related to social skills, the nature of the relationship between these domains and their impact upon resilience, or the ability to overcome adversity, is an important area of further investigation.

Objectives: The current study explores the nature and strength of the relationships among cognitive flexibility, social skills, and resilience in children with HFASDs.

Methods: Participants included 25 children ages 8-12 with Asperger’s syndrome, high functioning autism, or Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified, and 25 age- and gender-matched typically developing controls. Cognitive flexibility was examined via the behaviourally-based Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF) and the Delis Kaplan Executive Function System (D-KEFS). Resiliency was examined via the Resiliency Scales for Children and Adolescents (RSCA), and social skills were examined via the Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS). Comparisons between the two participants groups were conducted to investigate group differences. Correlational analyses were then conducted to examine the nature of the relationship between these domains in the HFASD population.   

Results: Preliminary results indicate that children with HFASDs demonstrate significantly impaired cognitive flexibility, as measured by the Shift subdomain of the BRIEF, when compared to normative data. Preliminary results also indicated a significant moderate positive correlation between self-reported social skills and the Sense of Mastery scale score of the RSCA. Lastly, preliminary results indicate significant positive correlations between the Word Context subtest of the D-KEFS, which measures cognitive flexibility, and both the Sense of Mastery and Sense of Relatedness scales of the RSCA. 

Conclusions: The current study provides additional support that children with HFASDs demonstrate impaired cognitive flexibility. Additionally, results suggest that social skills and cognitive flexibility are related to resiliency in this population. Subsequent work can build on this information by developing targeted interventions that build on and strengthen EFs and other potentially related factors within children diagnosed with HFASDs to enhance social skills and resilience in this population.

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