Procject 3: Computerized executive function training for children with autism.
Short rational: One cognitive theory of autism postulates that autism symptoms can be explained by cognitive problems in the domain of executive functioning. If this is indeed the case one would expect that training these executive functions (like working memory and cognitive flexibility) would reduce not just the cognitive problems, but also the autism symptoms. Together with a group of colleagues a computerized training was developed (Brian’s brain game). In the current project (a double blind randomized controlled trial) we test, in collaboration with Ben Schmand & Pier Prins, whether this is indeed the case.
The study on an executive function (EF) training (Braingame Brian) for children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is completed!
We studied whether EF training Braingame Brian is a suitable treatment for children with ASD. We compared two versions of the training (a working memory training and a cognitive flexibility training) with an active control training (mock-training). Of the 121 children who participated in the study, 90 children completed all sessions. Children in all three training groups (working memory, cognitive flexibility-, and mock-training group) improved in working memory, cognitive flexibility and sustained attention as measured with tasks performed by the children. Moreover, all three training groups improved in EF, social behavior, ADHD-characteristics and quality of life as measured with questionnaires filled out by their parents. However, children who performed the working memory or cognitive flexibility training did not improve much more than children who performed the mock-training. Limited effects were found; the working memory training resulted in slightly more improvement on a working memory task and ADHD characteristics as measured with a questionnaire. The cognitive flexibility training resulted in slightly more improvement on a cognitive flexibility task. The main goal, that training-effects would generalize to daily life, was not achieved. We studied whether the training would be suitable for subgroups of children with ASD. However, intelligence, autism characteristics, working memory and cognitive flexibility, Theory of Mind, and reward sensitivity did not affect performance on the training nor training effects. Hence, unfortunately, the training does not appear a suitable intervention for children with ASD.