Date of Award

2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Sylvia Voelker

Keywords

Broad Autism Phenotype, Executive Function, Social Cognition

Rights

CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

Abstract

The current study purported to investigate executive function and social cognitive weaknesses in the Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP) population and identify how weaknesses in either of these areas could influence coping repertoire and coping flexibility in parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders or Other Developmental Disabilities. Two samples were collected; Sample 1 (N=147) completed neuropsychological measures and self-report questionnaires of executive function and social cognition. Sample 2 (online only; N=104) completed a subset of these measures. Results indicated no differences in proportion of the Broad Autism Phenotype in parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in either sample. With regard to the neuropsychological measures utilized in Sample 1, Letter-Number Sequencing score (working memory) only was predictive of total correct on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task (RMET); no other neuropsychological measures predicted BAP characteristics, nor were these measures predictive of self-reported coping strategy use or scores on a measure of social inference making. However, in both samples, self-report of Planning and Organizing behaviour as measured by the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF) predicted Rigidity; BRIEF Working Memory score was predictive of Pragmatic Language in both samples as well. Interestingly, BRIEF Working Memory was not predictive of the total correct on RMET. RMET total correct score did not differ between those with and without the BAP Coping strategy use, nor did RMET significantly predict Pragmatic Language scores. However, for Sample 2 only, RMET response latency was significantly shorter in those with the BAP. Although Planning and Organizing best predicted Problem Focused coping strategy use in both Sample 1 and Sample 2, overall coping strategy use was best predicted by Aloofness in both samples. The results of this study suggest some separation of social and non-social skills (task-based or academic/abstract) at a basic level, but at higher levels of reasoning these skills are less separable and are likely both mediated by executive functions. These results also suggest that that those with the BAP may have weaknesses with regard to more complex social interactions. Finally, these results indicate global weaknesses in executive functioning in the BAP as assessed by self-report, although the importance of planning weaknesses as a specific marker for the BAP was also supported.

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