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Brief Report: Examining Executive and Social Functioning in Elementary-Aged Children with Autism


There is a paucity of literature examining the relationship between executive and social functioning in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Twenty-three school-aged children with ASD participated. Executive functioning was measured using the Developmental Neuropsychological Assessment, Second Edition and Differential Ability Scales, Second Edition, and the teacher-rated Behavior Rating of Inventory of Executive Function. Independent assessors observed children’s social functioning on the playground while children with ASD and their peers completed a survey to measure peer friendships and rejections. Overall, poorer executive functioning was associated with increased playground isolation and less engagement with peers. This suggests that metacognitive skills such as initiation, working memory, and planning and organization are associated with children’s social functioning.

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Drs. Freeman and Rotheram-Fuller were affiliated with Temple University while Drs. Locke and Mandell were affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania at the time of the study. Dr. Freeman is now at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Dr. Locke is now at the University of Washington, and Dr. Rotheram-Fuller is now at Arizona State University. We thank the children, staff, and schools who participated and the research associates, Emily Bernabe, Margaret Mary Downey, and Rukiya Wideman, who were instrumental in data collection.

Author’s Contribution

LMF generated the idea, was the primary writer of the manuscript, and approved all changes. JL is the principal investigator of the larger study in which these data were drawn. JL, ERF and DM provided input into the design of the study. All authors were involved in developing, editing, writing, reviewing, and providing feedback for this manuscript and have given approval of the final version to be published.


This study was funded by the Autism Science Foundation (Grants # 11-1010 and #13-ECA-01L) and FARFund Early Career Award, as well as NIMH K01MH100199.

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Correspondence to Jill Locke.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Freeman, L.M., Locke, J., Rotheram-Fuller, E. et al. Brief Report: Examining Executive and Social Functioning in Elementary-Aged Children with Autism. J Autism Dev Disord 47, 1890–1895 (2017).

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  • Executive functioning
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Social skills