The Map Task: A New Assessment of Functional Capacity in Autism
Objectives: To investigate: (1) how ASD perform on the Map Task relative to TD, (2) whether this measure is related to cognitive functioning or age, and (3) if Map Task performance is associated with adaptive functioning.
Methods: Participants included 23 with ASD (Mean age=15.96), and 28 with TD (Mean age=15.75), matched on perceptual reasoning index (PRI; Wechler 2011). In the Map Task, participants were given a map of a fictional town and were instructed to complete errands quickly by drawing their route on the map. The instructions contained the order for errand completion and an errand list in the incorrect order. Independent variables included: number of errands completed, completion time, and frequency of 4 types of errors -- visiting extra stores, not entering/exiting stores correctly, going the wrong way on a one-way street, and errand order errors (e.g. completing tasks in an illogical order like mailing a card before purchasing the card). We assessed participant cognitive functioning with the NIH Toolbox – Cognition Battery and adaptive functioning with parent reports on the Adaptive Behavior Assessment System (ABAS-3; Harrison & Oakland, 2015). ANCOVAs (with verbal IQ as a covariate) were used to test mean differences on Map Task variables. Pearson correlations between error frequency, child cognition variables, age, and adaptive functioning scores were performed using SPSS 23.
Results: Total errands completed and completion time did not differ between groups. ASD made significantly more errand order errors (F(1,48)=4.37, p=.04). TD made more errors involving visiting extra stores (F(1, 48)=4.00, p=.05). The NIH Toolbox cognitive composite score was significantly correlated with errand order errors in both ASD (r(21)=-.46, p<.05) and TD (r(26)=-.66, p<.001). Age was negatively correlated with errand order errors in TD (r(26)=-.60, p<.01), but not in ASD. Finally, PRI was negatively correlated with errand order errors in both ASD (r(22)=-.45, p<.05) and TD (r(26)=-.52, p<.01 ). There were no associations between Maps Task variables and parent reports of adaptive functioning.
Conclusions: Findings indicated that individuals with ASD performed similarly to TD on the Map Task, although ASD made more errand order errors, while TYP visited extra stores. This suggests that ASD follow rules on a small scale (the order the of the list) rather than a large scale (completing all errands in the suggested order). Somewhat surprisingly, we did not observe differences in adaptive functioning in relation to performance on the Map Task. Data collection is ongoing—we will continue to investigate how inattention and cognitive inflexibility are associated with performance on this task.