Neurobiological Mechanisms of Executive Function (EF) As a Predictor of Social and Academic Outcomes in More-Able Kindergarteners with ASD

Oral Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 3:55 PM
Willem Burger Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
S. H. Kim1, L. C. Shuffrey2, N. Benrey3, Y. B. Choi4, N. H. Brito5, W. P. Fifer2 and C. Lord6, (1)Psychiatry, Center for Autism and the Developing Brain, White Plains, NY, (2)Division of Developmental Neuroscience, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY, (3)Weill Cornell Med School, New york, NY, (4)Psychiatry, Weill Cornell Medical College, White Plains, NY, (5)Department of Applied Psychology, New York University, New York, NY, (6)University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Although past studies have shown atypical electrophysiological patterns of response monitoring and inhibitory control in ASD, these investigations have been limited to older school-age children and adults with ASD. This calls for more in-depth examinations of neurobiological mechanisms of EF in young children with ASD.

Objectives: We examined behavioral and electrophysiological patterns of EF skills and their impacts on concurrent social and academic outcomes in more-able kindergarteners with ASD.

Methods: We integrated innovative behavioral and event-related potential (ERP) tasks to target EF in 43 more-able kindergartners with ASD (no cognitive/structural language delays; mean age=64 months, SD=6). Novel computerized EF tasks were administered on a touch-screen tablet (“EF Touch”; Willougby et al., 2010) to assess inhibitory control (“Spatial Conflict Arrows [SCA]”), working memory (“Pick the Picture”), and attention shifting (“Something’s the Same [STS]”) based on proportions of correct trials. EF-related ERP components, Error Related Negativity [ERN], Correct Related Negativity [CRN], error positivity (Pe), N2 and P3 were elicited with a newly validated child-friendly Go/No-go ERP task (“Zoo Game”; Grammer et al., 2014) for a subset of children (n=17). Social and academic achievement were measured by the Brief Observation of Social Communication Change (BOSCC; Grzandinsky, Lord et al., 2016) and Woodcock Johnson Achievement Test (WJ). Regression analyses were conducted to examine the significant effects of EF on social/academic skills. Non-parametric correlations were used to examine the associations between ERPs and social/academic outcomes.

Results: Significant effects of inhibitory control (EF Touch SCA) and attention shifting (STS) on math achievement (WJ Applied Problems) emerged while controlling for age, gender, and maternal education (p<0.05). Additionally, when IQ was controlled, the effect of inhibitory control on math achievement still remained significant. The Zoo Game successfully elicited ERP components related to response monitoring (ERN/CRN, Pe) and inhibitory control (N2, P3; Figure 1). Larger No-go P3 amplitudes were significantly associated with worse achievement in reading (WJ Letter Word Identification [rs=-.66]; Passage Comprehension [rs=-.59], p<0.05). Greater No-go N2 amplitudes were significantly associated with more social communication impairments (BOSCC, rs=0.71, p<0.05). Larger CRN was marginally correlated with worse achievement potentially due to a small sample size (WJ Passage Comprehension, rs=-.48, p=0.08).

Conclusions: Preliminary data with recent cohorts of 43 more-able kindergarteners with ASD showed potential links between EF and concurrent academic and social outcomes. Results also showed that less efficient inhibitory processing related to larger N2 and P3 may be associated with poorer academic and social outcomes. This is in line with previous findings showing that children with ASD may require more neural resources for inhibitory control. Similarly, hyperactive response monitoring related to larger CRN (similar to findings in those with anxiety) may be linked to more limited academic skills. These findings might shed light in examining functional mechanisms of atypical neural activities related to EF deficits in young children with ASD, which will be critical for the development of more focused behavioral interventions targeting EF skills prior to school entry. The data collection is currently underway, and we hope to expand our analyses to a larger, longitudinal sample.