An Examination of the Role of Executive Functioning in Predicting Social Competence in Children with and without ASD

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
V. C. Fong1 and G. Iarocci2, (1)Psychology, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC, Canada, (2)Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada

All children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience social difficulties but they differ with regard to the type and severity of social difficulties. Potentially powerful interventions focused on improving social skills in children with ASD (Koning, Magill-Evans, Volden, & Dick, 2013; Waugh & Peskin, 2015; Whalon, Conroy, Martinez, & Werch, 2015)may have limited effectiveness if they are not tailored to the child’s specific profile of strengths and challenges. To effectively target interventions there is a need to understand the key factors that contribute to different strengths or challenges in social competence (eg. emotion regulation versus socio-cognitive skills) in children with ASD. One factor that may play an important role in social competence is executive functioning (EF). EF may influence social competence by facilitating higher-order strategies such as emotional and cognitive regulation which is necessary for social interactions (Riggs, Jahromi, Razza, Dilworth-Bart, & Mueller, 2007).


To examine parent reports of EF using the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF-2; Gioia, Isquith, Guy, & Kenworthy, 2015). Composite indices may mask variations within the component subscales, particularly for children with ASD, who often demonstrate uneven profiles of functioning. To address this, the present study had two goals: 1. To examine and compare EF and social competence profiles in children with ASD without cognitive disability and typically developing (TD) children; and 2. To determine whether specific EF skills can predict social competence in both groups.


The study is based on archival data from 117 children and adolescents, aged 5 to 13, including 62 with ASD (M=10.07, SD=1.64), and 55 who were TD (M=9.52, SD=1.64). Caregivers completed the BRIEF-2 Parent Form, assessing everyday EF skills, and the Multidimensional Social Competence Scale (MSCS; Yager & Iarocci, 2013), measuring 7 distinct domains of social competence. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses were conducted separately for each group (TD, ASD) with MSCS scales entered as the dependent variables and executive functioning indices and scales of the BRIEF-2 as the main predictor variables.


The first investigation of EF indices (BRI, ERI, CRI) as a predictor of social competence domains in TD children, revealed that problems with emotional regulation significantly predicted difficulties with empathy after controlling for age and IQ. For children with ASD, deficits in emotional regulation significantly predicted difficulties in modulating negative states and nonverbal conversation skills. Additionally, impairments in behavioral regulation also emerged as a significant predictor of deficits in social inferencing and verbal conversation. To determine the specific EF skills that related to social competence, a scale analysis of the BRIEF-2 was conducted. Deficits in self-monitoring were a significant predictor of poorer social inferencing, empathy, and social knowledge for children with ASD.


Self-monitoring, emotional control, and initiation played a significant role in predicting social inferencing, emotion regulation, empathy, and social motivation in children with ASD. A more precise understanding of the particular EF skills that contribute to various aspects social competence can inform the development of tailored, individualized, and effective interventions for individuals with ASD.