6. Executive functions in children with autism and ADHD
Goal 1: To examine the neuropsychological profile of children and teens with and autism and/or ADHD diagnosis.
Goal 2: To examine whether specific executive functions can be trained in children and teens with autism and/or ADHD diagnosis.
Results 1: Children with ADHD are thought to have more profound difficulties in inhibition and children with autism in cognitive flexibility. However, in a direct comparison this is not as clear cut as thought based on studying each of these disorders in isolation. The cognitive problems in the autism group were more profound and wide spread as compared to the ADHD group. Children with both diagnoses were more variable in their responding. In our current studies we are, for example, testing whether the inhibition problem observed in children with autism (2004 paper) can be replicated.
Results 2: We studied whether EF training Braingame Brian is a suitable treatment for children with an ASD diagnosis. 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 an ASD diagnosis. Another research group tested whether the training was suitable for children with an ADHD diagnosis. For these children the training seems more beneficial.
We also studied whether an Planningstraining Plan my life is a suitable treatment for teens with an ADHD diagnosis. The findings for this study will be added soon. The training was also tested in a small group of teens with an ASD diagnosis, but the training seemed to need many adjustement to be suitable for this specific group.
Details: In a series of publications you can find all details for the executie function studies. For example Geurts et al. (2004) in Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JCPP), Geurts et al. (2008) in Neuropsychologia or Geurts et al. (2009) in JADD. See also various papers of Verté and of de Vries and Boyer. For the training studies see for example De Vries et al. (2014) in JCPP and Boyer et al. (2015) in European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
For a description of this project in Dutch see d’Arc onderzoek.