Executive Function in Individuals With Subthreshold Autism Traits

Shawn E. Christ, Stephen M. Kanne, Angela M. Reiersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Objective: Recent research has documented increased psychosocial difficulties in individuals who report higher-than-typical autistic traits but without an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis. Less is known, however, regarding the cognitive profile of individuals with subthreshold autism symptomatology. The objective of the present study was to provide additional insight into this issue and examine whether young adults who report higher degrees of autism traits also report experiencing increased difficulties with executive control. Method: The Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function was utilized to evaluate behavioral aspects of executive functioning in 66 and 28 individuals who endorsed high and low subthreshold levels of autism symptomatology, respectively. Results: After accounting for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptomatology at both the group and individual participant levels, we found that autism traits continued to explain a significant amount of variance in participants' overall level of executive function (Global Executive Composite) as well as within most individual executive domains. Interestingly, the high and low trait groups did not differ on the inhibitory control and organization of materials scales, areas of functioning that appears to be largely spared in individuals with ASD as well. Conclusions: Findings from the present study are consistent with past research linking ASD and executive control impairment. In addition, ASD and ADHD traits were associated with unique contributions to the executive control profile of individuals with subthreshold autism symptomatology. This finding underscores the importance of accounting for ADHD symptomatology in studying ASD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)590-598
Number of pages9
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function
  • Broader autism phenotype
  • Executive control


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