Using the NIH Toolbox Cognition Battery to Characterize the Cognitive Profile of Children with Autism
Objectives: This study details preliminary data using the NIH-TCB to assess the cognitive domains of cognitive flexibility, processing speed, and attention shifting in children with and without ASD.
Methods: ASD children ages 3-17 and typically developing (TD) children matched on age are currently being recruited. This abstract details data from 18 children and adolescents with ASD (mean age = 9.4 years; SD = 3.9) and 14 TD controls (mean age = 7.1 years; SD = 2.8). TD children demonstrated a significantly higher IQ (mean IQ = 117.4; p=.01) than ASD children (mean IQ = 100.2), so this was controlled for in analysis. Children were administered an abbreviated version of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test, Fifth Edition (SB-5) and three NIH Toolbox Cognition assessments: 1) Flanker Inhibitory Control and Attention (Flanker); 2) Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS); and 3) Pattern Comparison Processing Speed (PCPS). These tasks were chosen in order to evaluate attention, cognitive flexibility, and speed of processing.
Results: Three ASD children were excluded from analysis, as they were unable to complete the assessment due to difficulties in attention or understanding the task. These children were all characterized by an IQ at or below the 5th percentile, although a select few children with an IQ in this range completed the assessment. ASD children exhibited cognitive deficits compared to TD children, with lower Age-Corrected Standard scores for the Flanker (t(27)= -2.9, p= .007), DCCS (t(27)= -3.6, p= .001), and PCPS (t(27)= -3.2, p= .004) assessments. IQ was strongly correlated with Age-Corrected Standard score for ASD (r= .69), but not TD children (r= .46) on the DCCS task. No significant correlations were found between IQ and Age-Corrected Standard score for the Flanker or PCPS tasks in either group. When controlling for IQ on the DCCS task, significant between-group differences continued to be observed in Age-Corrected Standard scores (F= 4.3, p= .047), supporting previous findings using the standard DCCS task in high-functioning autism (Faja & Dawson, 2014).
Conclusions: These preliminary findings replicate previously observed patterns of cognition in children with ASD. Children with ASD exhibited decreased cognitive flexibility, difficulties in attention switching and inhibition, and increased speed of processing compared to TD children. Although the current sample size is small, we anticipate 150 children with ASD and 75 controls by Spring 2018. These data support the potential of the NIH-TCB as a valid, integrated tool for the assessment of cognition in children with ASD.