Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society

Symposium

Neurocognitive predictors of social and communicative developmental trajectories in preschoolers with autism spectrum disorders

JEFFREY MUNSONa1a2 c1, SUSAN FAJAa1a3, ANDREW MELTZOFFa3a4, ROBERT ABBOTTa1a4 and GERALDINE DAWSONa1a1a1

a1 University of Washington Autism Center and Center on Human Development and Disability, Seattle, Washington

a2 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

a3 Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

a4 Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, Seattle, Washington

a5 Department of Educational Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

Abstract

Currently, the heterogeneity in the developmental trajectories of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is poorly understood. Preschool children with ASD participating in a longitudinal study received a battery of neurocognitive tasks that measured the learning of reward associations (Lrn-Rew), spatial working memory (SpatWM), and imitation from memory and novelty preference (Mem/Nov), as well as a measure of nonverbal problem-solving ability (NVDQ). Growth curve analyses via HLM were used to predict the variability in growth rates between age 4 to age 6.5 in Vineland Socialization and Communication scores. Individual differences in both Lrn-Rew and Mem/Nov were significantly related to Socialization and Communication growth rates above and beyond NVDQ, whereas SpatWM was not. Thus, specific aspects of neurocognitive functioning appear to be important predictors of developmental variability during the preschool years in children with ASD. We speculate that these findings support the combined role of ventromedial prefrontal and medial temporal lobe systems in the early pathogenesis of ASD and may be useful in predicting developmental trajectory. The benefits and challenges of assessing specific neurocognitive functions in children with autism is discussed with regard to general cognitive/developmental ability and the behavioral requirements of most assessment settings. (JINS, 2008, 14, 956–966.)

(Received December 01 2007)

(Revised August 04 2008)

(Accepted August 05 2008)

Correspondence:

c1 Correspondence and reprint requests to: Jeffrey Munson, UW Autism Center, Box 357920, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195. E-mail: jeffmun@u.washington.edu