Attentional Networks in Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
J. M. Myers, T. M. Rutter, R. A. Bowler, A. Gavriloff, K. Anderson and B. J. Wilson, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA

The Attentional Network Test (ANT) has been used to examine visual attention abnormalities in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD; Fan et al., 2002; Rueda et al., 2004). The ANT assesses three interconnecting attentional networks related to alerting, orienting, and executive control (Posner et al., 2011). The orienting attention network, which indexes the ability to disengage, shift, and reengage attention, may be especially important for children with ASD. Orienting has been linked to the development of self-regulation, emotional control and social communication (Rothbart et al., 2011, Keehn et al, 2010). While past research suggests that children with ASD have deficits in the orienting network compared to their typically developing (TD) peers (Keehn et al, 2010), these results have not been replicated within younger populations. It is important to examine the orienting network in younger children to better understand when these challenges develop so that interventions can be implemented early in children’s development


Our objective was to investigate whether challenges in orienting attention are present in an early childhood sample of children with both typical development and ASD. We hypothesized that we would replicate previous findings such that there would be significant differences across groups in orienting network. Given our extension of this task to a younger sample, we also hypothesized that age that would be a unique predictor of attention networks.


Participants were 142 children (ages 3:0 to 6:11), including 88 children with typical development (42% female) and 54 children with ASD (20% female). Children completed the ANT via laptops in a laboratory or home setting.


A multi-level factorial ANOVA was conducted to evaluate the effects of age and diagnostic status on orienting scores, calculated by subtracting median response times for the spatial cue condition from the center cue condition (Posner et al., 2007). The main effects of age, F(3, 134) = 0.40 , p = .752, ηp2 =.009, and status were not significant, F(1, 134) = 1.05 , p = .307, ηp2 =.008. However, the interaction effect between age and diagnostic status consumption was significant, F(3, 134) = 3.96 , p = .010, ηp2 =.08.


The current study replicated previous findings regarding performance on the orienting attention network in children with and without ASD. However, significant differences in orienting attention scores between groups were only seen within the interaction between age and diagnostic status. These results suggest the important role of age in the assessment of attention network scores and indicate the need for future research to isolate the possible role that different developmental patterns in attention may play in the development of co-emerging skills such as self-regulation, emotional control, and sociocommunicative functioning (Rothbart et al., 2011, Keehn et al, 2010). By further isolating differences in attentional development in young children with ASD, it may be possible to create early intervention focused on increasing attentional abilities that may have effects on skills needed for later childhood demands.