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Evaluation of Executive Function and Autism Characteristics in Children with ASD Participating in Spark*

Friday, 3 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
B. M. Stoesz1, J. M. Montgomery2, E. H. MacKenzie3 and K. Carpick4, (1)Psychology, University of Manitoba, Altona, MB, Canada, (2)Psychology Dept., University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada, (3)Wired Fox Publications, St. Catherine's, ON, Canada, (4)University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Background:  Impaired executive functions (EF) and consequent weak self-regulation, or dysregulation, are found in children with attention deficit disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phenylketonuria, and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) (Hill, 2004).  Ozonoff et al., (2005) refer to executive dysfunction as “one of the most consistently replicated cognitive deficits in individuals with ASD” (p. 532).  In general terms, development of EF predicts how well children with ASD respond to treatment (Berger et al., 2010) as well as their long-term outcomes (Szatmari et al., 1989).  Deficits in the EF system are associated with impairments in communication, play, and social relationships in children with ASD (Gilotty et al., 2002).  Dominick, et al. (2007) stress the importance of examining EF and self-regulation in people across the range of ASD, as well as at different age levels, within the laboratory and in day-to-day life.  Recently, we showed that a self-regulation intervention program called spark*, Self-regulation Program of Awareness and Resilience in Kids (MacKenzie, 2010), improved behaviour regulation as measured by the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF) (Gioia et al., 1996) in school-aged children with ASD (Montgomery, 2012).

Objectives:  Our primary objectives were to replicate our previous finding of improvement in EF after spark* intervention in school-aged children with ASD as well as to examine the specific relationships between parent reported EF, performance-based measures of EF, and autism characteristics and behaviour before and after spark* intervention.

Methods:  A group of school-aged children participating in spark* intervention groups were assessed prior to the initiation of treatment using standardized face-to-face and rating scale measures of EF [i.e., BRIEF, Gioia et al., 1996; A Developmental NEuroPSYchological Assessment (NEPSY), Korkman et al., 2007] as well as standardized rating scales of autism characteristics and behavior [i.e., Autism Spectrum Rating System (ASRS), Goldstein & Naglieri, 2009].  spark* was administered by graduate students in school psychology who were trained in the spark* philosophy and methods and supervised by experienced clinicians.  Skills addressed during the sessions included: behavioral self-regulation of hands, breathing, feet, voice, and whole body; and cognitive self-regulation, focusing and sustaining attention, determining and retaining the most important/relevant information, determining expectations, and constructing meaning.  After the 10-week intervention period, the same measures of EF and autism characteristics and behaviours were re-administered.

Results:  Observed and performance-based improvements in EF were found to demonstrate similar patterns as in our previous investigation of improvement after spark* intervention.  Results will be discussed in terms of relationships of EF variables to autism characteristics, as measured before and after intervention.

Conclusions:  The results confirm that the spark* intervention program is effective for improving the behaviour of elementary school-aged children with ASD.  Parents also thought the program was a valuable program for their children and their families.  Implications for programming and future research will be discussed.

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