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Review ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychiatry | doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00753

Executive function in Autism Spectrum Disorder: History, theoretical models, empirical findings and potential as an endophenotype.

  • 1Faculty of Medicine and Health, Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney, Australia
  • 2Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney, Australia

This review presents an outline of executive function (EF) and application to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The development of the EF construct, theoretical models of EF and limitations in the study of EF are outlined. The potential of EF as a cognitive endophenotype for ASD is reviewed and the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) framework is discussed for researching EF in ASD given the multifaceted factors that influence EF performance. A number of executive focused cognitive models have been proposed to explain the symptom clusters observed in ASD. Empirical studies suggest a broad impairment in EF, although there is significant inter-individual variability in EF performance. The observed heterogeneity of EF performance is considered a limiting factor in establishing EF as a cognitive endophenotype in ASD. We propose, however, that this variability in EF performance presents an opportunity for subtyping within the spectrum that can contribute to targeted diagnostic and intervention strategies. Enhanced understanding of the neurobiological basis that underpins EF performance, such as the excitation/inhibition hypothesis, will likely be important. Application of the RDoC framework could provide clarity on the nature of EF impairment in ASD with potential for greater understanding of, and improved interventions for, this disorder.

Keywords: Cognition, Child Development, social, Attention, GABA, Disability

Received: 20 Apr 2019; Accepted: 19 Sep 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Demetriou, Demayo and Guastella. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Adam J. Guastella, Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney, Sydney, 2050, New South Wales, Australia,