Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 429–441 | Cite as

Can standard measures identify subclinical markers of autism?

  • Sally Ozonoff
  • Sally J. Rogers
  • James M. Farnham
  • Bruce F. Pennington


This study compared the executive function and theory-of-mind abilities of siblings of autistic individuals to those of siblings of learning-disabled controls. Three different analyses of the dependent measures provided convergent support for a potential subclinical marker in the executive function domain. No group differences in theory-of-mind abilities were found. However, power analyses revealed that the measures employed in this study, which are typically used with autistic individuals, were not sufficiently sensitive to detect any group differences that might exist in “unaffected” family members. Suggestions for future research are provided, including the need to develop more sensitive tasks that produce larger effects and measure more elementary cognitive operations.


Family Member Cognitive Operation Executive Function Power Analysis Standard Measure 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. August, G. J., Stewart, M. A. & Tsai, L. (1981). The incidence of cognitive disabilities in the siblings of autistic children.British Journal of Psychiatry, 138, 416–422.Google Scholar
  2. Baird, T. D. & August, G. J. (1985). Familial heterogeneity in infantile autism.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 15, 315–321.Google Scholar
  3. Baron-Cohen, S. (1989). The autistic child's theory of mind: A case of specific developmental delay.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 30, 285–297.Google Scholar
  4. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind?”Cognition, 21, 37–46.Google Scholar
  5. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. (1986). Mechanical, behavioral and intentional understanding of picture stories in autistic children.British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 4, 113–125.Google Scholar
  6. Borys, S. V., Spitz, H. H., & Dorans, B. A. (1982). Tower of Hanoi performance of retarded young adults and nonretarded children as a function of solution length and goal state.Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 33, 87–110.Google Scholar
  7. Courchesne, E., Townsend, J. P., Akshoomoff, N. A., Yeung-Courchesne, R., Press, G. A., Murakami, J. W., Lincoln, A. J., James, H. E., Saitoh, O., Haas, R. H., & Schreibman, L. (in press). A new finding in autism: Impairment in shifting attention. In S. H. Broman & J. Grafman (Eds.),Atypical cognitive deficits in developmental disorders: Implications for brain function. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  8. Flavell, J. H., Botkin, P. T., Fry, C. L., Wright, J. W., & Jarvis, P. E. (1968).The development of role-taking and communication skills in children. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  9. Folstein, S. E., & Rutter, M. (1977). Infantile autism: A genetic study of 21 twin pairs.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 18, 297–321.Google Scholar
  10. Folstein, S. E., & Rutter, M. (1988). Autism: Familial aggregation and genetic implications.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 18, 3–30.Google Scholar
  11. Freeman, B. J., Ritvo, E. R., Mason-Brothers, A., Pingree, C., Hokota, A., Jenson, W. R., McMahon, W. M., Petersen, P. B., Mo, A., & Schroth, P. (1989). Psychometric assessment of first-degree relatives of 62 autistic probands in Utah.American Journal of Psychiatry, 146, 361–364.Google Scholar
  12. Garfin, D. G., McCallon, D., & Cox, R. (1988). Validity and reliability of the Childhood Autism Rating Scale with autistic adolescents.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 18, 367–378.Google Scholar
  13. Harris, P. L. (1993). Petending and planning. In S. baron-Cohen, H. Tager-Flusberg, & D. Cohen (Eds.),Understanding other minds: Perspectives from autism (pp. 228–246). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Heaton, R. K. (1981).Wisconsin card sorting test manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.Google Scholar
  15. Hughes, C., & Russell, J. (1993). Autistic children's difficulty with mental disengagement from an object: its implications for theories of autism.Developmental Psychology, 29, 498–510.Google Scholar
  16. Jensen, R. A. (1991). Family characteristics of autistic children: A further report [Letter to the Editor].Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 21, 557–558.Google Scholar
  17. Kraemer, H. C., & Thiemann, S. (1987).How many subjects: Statistical power analysis in research. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  18. Landa, R., Folstein, S. E., & Isaacs, C. (1991). Spontaneous narrative discourse performance of parents of autistic individuals.Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 34, 1339–1345.Google Scholar
  19. McEvoy, R. E., Rogers, S. J., & Pennington, B. F. (1993). Executive function and social communication deficits in young autistic children.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 34, 563–578.Google Scholar
  20. Minton, J., Campbell, M., Green, W. H., Jennings, S., & Samit, C. (1982). Cognitive assessment of siblings of autistic children.Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 21, 256–261.Google Scholar
  21. Ozonoff, S. (in press). Executive functions in autism. In E. Schopler & G. B. Mesibov (Eds.),Learning and cognition in autism. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  22. Ozonoff, S., Pennington, B. F., & Rogers, S. J. (1991). Executive function deficits in high-functioning autistic individuals: Relationship to theory of mind.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 32, 1081–1105.Google Scholar
  23. Pennington, B. F. (in press). The working memory function of the prefrontal cortices: Implications for developmental and individual differences in cognition. In M. Haith (Ed.),Future-oriented processes in development. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  24. Perner, J., Frith, U., Leslie, A. M., & Leekam, S. R. (1989). Exploration of the autistic child's theory of mind: Knowledge, belief and communication.Child Development, 60, 689–700.Google Scholar
  25. Prior, M., & Hoffmann, W. (1990). Neuropsychological testing of autistic children through an exploration with frontal lobe tests.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 20, 581–590.Google Scholar
  26. Rumsey, J. M., & Hamburger, S. D. (1988). Neurosychological findings in high-functioning autistic men with infantile autism, residual state.Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 10, 201–221.Google Scholar
  27. Rumsey, J. M., & Hamburger, S. D. (1990). Neuropsychological divergence of high-level autism and severe dyslexia.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 20, 155–168.Google Scholar
  28. Sattler, J. M. (1988).Assessment of children (3rd ed.). San Diego: J. M. Sattler.Google Scholar
  29. Schopler, E., Reichler, R. J., & Renner, B. R. (1988).The Childhood autism rating scale (CARS), Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services.Google Scholar
  30. Smalley, S. L., & Asarnow, R. F. (1990). Brief report: Cognitive subclinical markers in autism.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 20, 271–278.Google Scholar
  31. Smalley, S. L., Asarnow, R. F., & Spence, M. A. (1988). Autism and genetics: A decade of research.Archives of General Psychiatry, 45, 953–961.Google Scholar
  32. Welsh, M. C., Pennington, B. F., & Groisser, D. B. (1991). A normative-developmental study of executive function: A window on prefrontal function in children.Developmental Neuropsychology, 7, 131–149.Google Scholar
  33. Wolff, S., Narayan, S., & Moyes, B. (1988). Characteristics of parents of autistic children: A controlled study.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 29, 143–153.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sally Ozonoff
    • 1
  • Sally J. Rogers
    • 2
  • James M. Farnham
    • 3
  • Bruce F. Pennington
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake City
  2. 2.University of Colorado Health Sciences CenterUSA
  3. 3.University of UtahUSA
  4. 4.University of DenverDenverUSA

Personalised recommendations