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Executive Function in Autism: Association with ADHD and ASD Symptoms

Abstract

There is substantial comorbidity between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and there are well-documented executive functioning (EF) deficits in both populations. An important question concerns whether EF deficits in children with ASD are related to severity of ASD, ADHD, or both. We examined ADHD and ASD symptoms in relation to ratings of EF in the home and classroom. The sample comprised 64 children (55 males) diagnosed with ASD (mean age = 9.26 years; mean FSIQ = 92). Analyses indicated that parent and teacher ratings of EF (except Shift and Emotional Control) were consistently related to ADHD symptom severity, but not to ASD severity. Thus, functioning in the domains of Shift and Emotional control appear relatively spared, whereas performance in all other EF was impaired in relation to ADHD symptoms.

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Acknowledgments

This study was funded by Grant Number MH072263 from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Preliminary versions of this paper were presented at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) 56th Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL, October 30, 2008 and at the 8th Annual International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) in Chicago, IL, May 7, 2009. The authors wish to express their appreciation to the children, parents, and teachers who participated in this study.

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All authors were involved in writing this manuscript. Drs. Pearson, Aman, and Loveland were involved in the conceptualization and methodology of the project. Dr. Pearson, Dr. Loveland, and Ms. Mansour were involved in investigation (i.e., conducting the research, collecting the data). Dr. Lane, Dr. Lee, Dr. Ward, and Ms. Mansour were involved in data analysis and visualization (preparation of figures). Dr. Pearson was responsible for project administration and funding acquisition. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Deborah A. Pearson.

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Dr. Pearson has received travel reimbursement and research support from Curemark LLC; research support from Biomarin and Novartis, and has served as a consultant to Curemark LLC. Ms. Mansour have received research support from Curemark LLC. Dr. Aman has received research contracts, consulted with, served on advisory boards, or done investigator training for J & J Pharmaceuticals; Ovid Therapeutics; Hoffmann-La Roche; Supernus Pharmaceuticals, and Zynerba Pharmaceuticals. He receives royalties from Slosson Educational Publications. The other authors report no biomedical financial interests or potential conflicts of interest.

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Lee, R.R., Ward, A.R., Lane, D.M. et al. Executive Function in Autism: Association with ADHD and ASD Symptoms. J Autism Dev Disord (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-020-04852-2

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Keywords

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Executive functioning
  • Parent ratings
  • Teacher ratings
  • ASD+ADHD