The impact of secondary working memory demands on inhibitory performance in individuals with and without autism spectrum disorder
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT REQUEST OF AUTHOR.] Executive function is postulated as one of the core areas of impairment in individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). When measured in isolation, however, aspects of executive function such as working memory and inhibitory control have often been found to be intact in ASD cohorts. It remains unclear to what extent impairments may be more readily observed when demands are placed concurrently on multiple aspects of executive function. To evaluate whether ASD-related impairments in inhibitory control are exaggerated in the presence of additional executive demands, we employed a paradigm that allowed for the independent manipulation of both working memory and inhibitory demands. An antisaccade eye movement task was used to assess inhibitory performance in 15 individuals with ASD and 49 typically developing individuals. Each participant completed the task in the presence of low and high secondary working memory demands. Individuals with ASD demonstrated impaired inhibitory control as compared to the non-ASD group, and this impairment was found to be static across development when performing the task under a low memory load. However, an increase in concurrent working memory load had a different impact on inhibitory performance between the two groups. Specifically, older children with ASD showed a larger deficit in inhibitory control than younger children suggesting that this deficit emerges with age in individuals with ASD.
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