Prospective Memory in Developmental Disorders

Parenting Children With Asperger's And High-functioning Autism

Activities for Autistic Children

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Overview There is currently little research on prospective memory in childhood and adolescence, and even fewer studies have investigated whether the development of prospective memory skills is negatively affected by psychopa-thologies such as autism or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In individuals with autism (Ozonoff & Jensen, 1999; Ozonoff & McEvoy, 1994; Prior & Hoffmann, 1990; Rumsey & Hamburger, 1988) and in those with ADHD (Willcutt, Doyle, Nigg, Faraone, & Pennington, 2005) executive dysfunctions are well documented. Hence, given the assumed involvement of executive functions in prospective memory, it was expected that children with autism or ADHD would be impaired in carrying out intended actions.

Relevant Findings

ADHD Two studies on multitasking found that children diagnosed with ADHD have difficulties in the coordination of several to-be-performed tasks where the switching from one task to another may require some form of prospective remembering (Clark, Prior, & Kinsella, 2000; Siklos & Kerns, 2004). Additionally, one of these studies indicated that the deficits seem to be specific for ADHD and are not attributable to oppositional defiant/conduct disorder (Clark et al., 2000).

Kerns and Price (2001) administered a time-based prospective memory task in the form of a computer game to children with ADHD. Moreover, an event-based task was applied in which children were required to perform specific actions during the course of the experiment. Kerns and Price found that relative to a sample of normal controls, children with ADHD performed significantly worse in the time-based but not in the event-based task. This differential pattern of findings was explained by the assumption that time-based tasks generally rely more heavily on executive control processes than event-based tasks, and thus only the former was sensitive for disruptions due to ADHD.

Kliegel, Ropeter, and Mackinlay (in press) applied a complex prospective memory paradigm to children with ADHD (cf. Kliegel et al., chap. 9, this volume). By this means, Kliegel et al. aimed at identifying the locus of the prospective memory deficit associated with ADHD. It was hypothesized that the impairments are pronounced in those phases of prospective remembering where a high degree of executive control is required. Consequently, Kliegel et al. found that compared to a group of normal controls, the children with ADHD showed particular deficits in the intention formation phase as indicated by impulsive intention planning. Importantly, this planning deficit had further negative implications for the retention and implementation of the delayed intentions.

Autism Only one study has so far investigated processes related to prospective memory in autistic patients. Similar to the findings on ADHD, Mackinlay, Charman, and Karmiloff-Smith (2006) reported impaired prospective memory performance in children with high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome as compared with typically developing controls. In a novel test of multitasking (Battersea Multitask Paradigm) the clinical group showed difficulties with planning, task switching, and inhibition of rule-breaking behavior. Consequently, the authors concluded that children with autism display deficits in the prospective organization of activities.

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