Executive Dysfunction in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Deficit in Set-shifting Ability?
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Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) display deficits in executive functioning, particularly in planning, set-shifting ability and abstract reasoning. Several studies have provided evidence for a shifting deficit in autism, particularly with a tendency to perseverate, though other studies have failed to support these findings. The trend in the literature appears to be that individuals with autism display impairment in set-shifting on complex tasks that require higher-order cognitive processing, whereas they perform as well as their typically-developing (TD) counterparts on less complex tasks. The aim of this study was to investigate the ability of adolescents with autism to discover a rule, switch to an alternate rule and apply it across different exemplars, using a sequencing task designed to tap into higher cognitive processes. The results showed that children with ASD had difficulty shifting rules within the first sequence, but applied the rule as accurately and quickly as the TD participants in the subsequent exemplars. This study supports the view that individuals with ASD have executive functioning impairment, but neither is it pervasive nor applicable to all executive function domains.