Legal Implications of Memory Deficits and Similarities in Youths with Autism

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
J. L. Johnson, Psychology, University of California, Davis, Sacramento, CA
Background: Individuals with high functioning Autism (HFA) exhibit deficits in eyewitness memory compared to typically developing individuals (TD). In adult samples, deficits are observed on recall tasks while performances in responses to direct question tasks may be undiminished, perhaps due to executive function compensatory strategies. Yet, younger HFA youths may evince deficits on both types of memory tasks, as compensatory mechanisms are still developing. Meanwhile, forensic interview protocols that assess eyewitness memory accuracy may be ineffective for those with HFA; such protocols employ mnemonic strategies reliant upon TD cognitive and social abilities that may be diminished in HFA samples, particularly HFA youths.

Objectives: This study compared eyewitness memory in youths with and without HFA, as well as assessed the efficacy of two forensic interview protocols.

Methods: Youths (age: M = 13.96, SD = 2.47, N = 48), half diagnosed with HFA, experienced a distressing event involving four confederates. Three weeks later, half received the Cognitive Interview (CI) or the 10-Step (a NICHD derivative) protocols to report everything they could remember. Following narratives, youths were asked a series of direct questions (DQ) about objects, people, and actions; the latter two categories were classified as self- or other-related details. Working memory, IQ, and pragmatic abilities were also assessed.

Results: Analyses employed a 2(Diagnostic groups: HFA vs. TD) x 2(Interview Protocol: 10 Step vs. CI) univariate/multivariate model, depending on the outcome variable(s). Narrative analyses found significant diagnostic group differences on total details [F(1, 43) = 19.26, p < .001, = .31, actions [F(1, 43) = 11.20, p < .003, = .21, people [F(1, 43) = 10.62, p < .003, = .20, objects [F(1, 43) = 18.56, p < .001, = .30, indicating HFA deficits (Figure 1). Memory protocols did not differ or interact with diagnosis, F’s (1-3,41-43) ≤ 1.66, p =n.s. For DQ analyses, a significant Diagnosis group x Interview Protocol x Detail (self vs. other) interaction, F(1, 43) = 6.01, p < .02, = .12, revealed that, among HFA, youths in 10 step condition answered self action DQs more accurately than youths in CI condition, F(1,43) = 4.86, p < .04, = .10, HFA-10Step = .87(.11), HFA-CI = .80(.12); the opposite pattern was observed for other action DQs, F(1,43) = 10.88, p < .003, = .20, HFA-10Step = .70(.15), HFA-CI = .81(.14). Youths with and without HFA performed similarly on DQ outcomes, F’s(1-3,41-43) ≤ 1.74. Among HFA youths, narrative accuracy for actions was associated with IQ (β = .47, t = 2.94, p < .01) and pragmatic difficulties (β = -.39, t = -2.32, p < .05). A similar model was observed for narrative total details, R2 = .58, F(3,20) = 9.14, p < .001.

Conclusions: While narrative performance was diminished, HFA youths performed similarly to TD peers on DQs. Executive function skills (IQ and pragmatic abilities) predicted HFA narrative accuracy. Narrative performance did not benefit from either protocol’s strategies but did influence responses to DQs about self- and other-actions; legal applications are discussed.