Executive Functioning and Attention as Predictors of Functional Outcomes in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder
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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in communication and socialization, as well as by repetitive and stereotyped behaviours and interests. The ASD phenotype is also characterized by impairments in cognition. A growing body of literature points to attention and executive functioning as being key elements of cognition that are impaired in individuals with ASD. It is very possible that these cognitive difficulties are related to the functional deficits in academic achievement, daily living skills and socialization that are experienced by individuals with ASD throughout their lifetime. Associations between these cognitive and functional abilities have been identified in TD populations; however, this relationship is not well understood in ASD. This is especially true for adolescents with ASD who are a vastly understudied population within the field. The research in this thesis aimed to investigate the nature of cognitive and functional impairments in high-functioning adolescents with ASD, and to better understand the relationship between these deficits. This study made use of a multi-method approach, by obtaining behavioural and parent-report data related to cognition and functioning for both ASD and TD populations. The results indicated that adolescents with ASD may have some impairment in executive functioning, particularly with shifting and planning abilities, and score significantly lower than TD adolescents on measures of academic achievement, adaptive behaviour and social skills. Surprisingly, no evidence was found for attentional deficits in the ASD group. Multiple regression analyses did not reveal any significant predictive relationships of attention and executive functioning with academic ability, adaptive behaviour, or social skills. Limitations of this research are discussed. The results may lend themselves to the development of theoretical frameworks for understanding functional abilities in adolescents with ASD.