Development and Psychopathology

Regular Articles

Development of autobiographical memory in children with autism spectrum disorders: Deficits, gains, and predictors of performance

Lorna Goddarda1 c1, Barbara Dritschela2, Sally Robinsona3 and Patricia Howlina3

a1 University of London, London

a2 University of St. Andrews, London

a3 Kings College, London

Abstract

Autobiographical memory (AM) was assessed in 63 children (aged 8–17 years) with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and compared with 63 typically developing children matched for age, gender, IQ, and verbal ability. A range of methodologies was employed for eliciting past experience with particular focus on the ability to recall (a) specific events, (b) the recent and remote past, and (c) semantic versus episodic memories across different lifetime periods. Results indicated that the ASD group manifested difficulties in retrieving specific memories to word cues and had poorer access to the remote past. Deficits were found in the context of intact recent memory and preserved general memory abilities, with some impairment of visual memory. Problems in retrieving episodic and semantic AMs across the life span were also evident. Qualitative analysis of memory reports suggested that the ASD group was less likely to refer to emotion in their remote memories but more likely to describe emotions in their recent memories. Important predictors of AM performance in the ASD group were central executive abilities, in particular cognitive flexibility and verbal fluency.

Correspondence

c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Lorna Goddard, Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross Gate, London SE14 6NW, UK; E-mail: l.goddard@gold.ac.uk.

Footnotes

  This research was supported by funding from the UK Economic and Social Research Council (RES-062-23-0197). We are very grateful to all who participated in the study.