International Meeting for Autism Research: Adaptive Functioning and Cognitive Development in Young Children with Autism

Adaptive Functioning and Cognitive Development in Young Children with Autism

Thursday, May 20, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
1:00 PM
G. Mathai , Pediatrics, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
L. L. Sears , Pediatrics, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
L. A. Ruble , Counseling, School, and Educational Psychology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
Background: Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder. Its core deficits of communication, social interaction and restricted/repetitive behaviors have a tremendous impact on how individuals function and cope with various demands over the life span. Although approximately 25-75% of individuals with autism have below-average IQ (< 70), autism can occur with equal severity in individuals of average and above-average IQ (Chakrabarti & Fombonne 2001). Findings are mixed regarding the relationship between social behaviors and intelligence. Severe maladaptive social behavior despite an IQ within normal range has been described (Volkmar, et al. 1987). On the other hand Freeman et al. (1999) found an association between WISC-R full scale IQ and the composite score of the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS) indicating an interdependency of the constructs.
Objectives: The purpose of this study is to examine how adaptive behaviors in the communication and social domains impact cognitive development in young children with autism. The information thus obtained may be critical for targeting specific areas for intensive early intervention.
Methods: This analysis was conducted on 56 children diagnosed with autism based on DSM-IV criteria. The sample included children ranging from 2.5 years to 5.0 years. Of these participants, 47 were males and 9 were females. Cognitive functioning was assessed using the 4 core subtests of the lower preschool level of the Differential Ability Scales (DAS). The lower preschool level is usually for ages 2:6 to 3:5, but complete norms are available up to age 4:11, which allows for lower-ability 5-year-olds to be tested at a more appropriate developmental level. The 4 core subtests are comprised of Block Building (visual-perceptual matching), Naming Vocabulary (expressive vocabulary), Verbal Comprehension (receptive language) and Picture Similarities (non verbal reasoning). Adaptive functioning in the communication and social domains was assessed using the VABS (Sparrow, et. al. 2005). The communication domain includes adaptive functioning in receptive, expressive and writing abilities, while the social domain includes adaptive functioning in interpersonal relationships, play and leisure and coping skills. Multiple regression analysis was used to determine, from two predictor variables (standard scores on the communication and social domains as assessed by the VABS) those that would be most predictive of the dependent variable (DAS subtest). Four separate analyses were conducted using forward method of entry (with criteria of p < .05 to enter variables) on each of the four core DAS subtests.
Results: Correlations showed that VABS communication standard scores were significantly (p < .05) related to DAS block building developmental T scores, DAS verbal comprehension developmental T score and DAS picture similarities developmental T score. VABS communication and socialization standard scores were significantly (p < .05) related to DAS Naming developmental T scores.
Conclusions: Results clearly demonstrate that adaptive functioning, particularly in the area of communication in autism impact cognitive development in the areas of imitation, visual perceptual matching, non verbal reasoning and receptive expressive language skills. Interventions in young children with autism need to focus on preverbal/verbal language skills, play and social interactional skills.
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