Event-Related Potentials Linked to Executive Function Predict Concurrent School Functioning Among School-Aged Children with ASD

Oral Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 4:20 PM
Willem Burger Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
S. Faja1, R. Golden1, R. Gilbert1, A. Vaidyanathan2, D. Hyatt3 and L. J. Nelson4, (1)Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA, (2)The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health, Mugappair west, Chennai, India, (3)Medicine, University of Illinois Chicago, Chicago, IL, (4)Boston University, Boston, MA
Background: Executive function (EF) is often reduced among individuals with ASD, even in the absence of more generalized cognitive difficulties. EF underlies the ability to manage complex problems, respond to novel situations, and strategically approach goals. Evidence suggests that it is comprised of inhibition, set-shifting, and working memory by mid-childhood. Understanding the neural profile that underlies EF in children with ASD is critical because EF is linked to academic success and the ability to successfully navigate social situations in children without ASD. The N2 event-related potential (ERP) has been linked to inhibition of conflicting information or responses. We previously reported that children with ASD had greater overall N2 amplitudes than children without ASD and amplitude differences between congruent and incongruent flanker conditions related to EF behavior (Faja et al., 2016). Little research has examined the link between neural signatures of EF and academic and social functioning in ASD.

Objectives: To examine individual differences in ERPs during two inhibitory EF tasks with respect to academic, executive, and social functioning in the classroom.

Methods: As part of a larger clinical trial of EF intervention, 75 children (10 female), aged 7-11 years, with ASD and a full-scale IQ of 107 (range: 80-150) participated. Teachers responded to surveys about EF (BRIEF) and social functioning (SRS-2 and SSIS). Parents responded to the CBCL Academic Competence scale. Electrophysiological recordings were collected to examine the N2 during Flanker and Go/Nogo tasks. Mean amplitude and latency were computed for each condition (congruent/incongruent, go/nogo). Larger ERP difference scores suggest more effortful or slower processing for the condition requiring greater inhibition. Sixty-nine children provided adequate ERP data for the Flanker task (33 with teacher surveys) and 37 for the Go/Nogo task (18 with teacher surveys).

Results: During the Flanker task, greater overall N2 amplitude uniquely predicted lower Academic Competence beyond age and IQ (Fchange=5.68, p=.02). More negative N2 amplitude for incongruent trials related to more teacher-reported problems with Organization of Materials (BRIEF; r(32)= -.38, p=.03). During the Go/Nogo, longer nogo versus go N2 latencies related to more teacher-reported problems with Shifting, r(18)= .62, p=.006, Monitoring, r(18)= .47, p=.05, and Behavioral Regulation, r(18)= .51, p=.03. Socially, larger go/nogo N2 latency differences related to more difficulties with Social Awareness (SRS-2; r(18)= .49, p=.04) and reduced Social Engagement (SSIS; r(17)= -.52, p=.03) at school. Larger differences between go and nogo amplitudes also related to lower teacher-reported Social Communication ability, r(17)= .57, p=.02, Cooperation, r(17)= .54, p=.03, and Social Responsibility, r(17)= .59, p=.01.

Conclusions: Neural responses during inhibitory EF tasks predict functioning at school. Specifically, children who exert more neural effort to suppress interfering stimuli (i.e., incongruent flankers), have worse general functioning and organization at school. Additionally, children with slower neural responses to cues to inhibit a dominant response were less flexible, less careful, and more dysregulated. Those who required more neural effort and responded more slowly to inhibitory signals also had reduced social functioning at school. The results of an EF training intervention on teacher-reported EF skills will also be presented.