BRIEF RESEARCH REPORT article
Volume 13 - 2022 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2022.1078211
Development and validation of the Executive Functioning Scale
- 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States
- 2Aspect Research Centre for Autism Practice, Frenchs Forest, NSW, Australia
- 3Department of Psychology, John Carroll University, University Heights, OH, United States
Executive functioning (EF) processes are essential for adaptive and flexible responding to the demands and complexities of everyday life. Conversely, if impaired, these processes are a key transdiagnostic risk factor that cuts across autism and a range of other neurodevelopmental (NDD) and neuropsychiatric (NPD) conditions. However, there are currently no freely available informant-report measures that comprehensively characterize non-affective (e.g., working memory, response inhibition, and set shifting) and affective (e.g., emotion regulation) EF subdomains. This study describes the development, refinement, and initial psychometric evaluation of a new 52-item Executive Functioning Scale (EFS). Two independent data collections yielded exploratory (n = 2004, 169 with autism, ages 2–17) and confirmatory (n = 954, 74 with autism, ages 2–17) samples. Exploratory Structural Equation Modeling (ESEM) model with six specific factors that closely matched hypothesized executive functioning subdomains of working memory and sequencing, response inhibition, set-shifting, processing speed, emotion regulation, and risk avoidance, and one general factor, showed the best fit to the data and invariance across age, sex, race, and ethnicity groups. Model reliability and internal consistency were excellent for the general factor (ω = 0.98; α = 0.97) and specific factors (ω ≥ 0.89–0.96; α ≥ 0.84–0.94). Conditional reliability estimates indicated excellent reliability (≥0.90) for the total EF scale and adequate or better reliability (≥0.70) for subscale scores. With further replication, the EFS has excellent potential for wide adoption across research and clinical contexts.
Executive functioning (EF), emotion regulation (ER), and valuation of risk and reward are essential processes for adaptive and flexible responding to continuously shifting tasks and demands, and complexities of everyday life (1–3). Indeed, these processes underpin healthy social and emotional development (4–6) and have been associated with a range of outcomes, including academic performance (7), healthy habits (8), and different aspects of quality of life (9). Conversely, EF and ER impairments have been suggested as critical transdiagnostic risk factors that cut across a range of neurodevelopmental (NDD) and neuropsychiatric (NPD) disorders (10–14). For instance, impairments in these processes are frequent in autism spectrum disorder [ASD; (15, 16)], attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD; (17, 18)], schizophrenia (19, 20), depression (21, 22), obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD; (23, 24)] and posttraumatic stress disorder (25). Further, EF and ER difficulties are associated with specific symptom domains commonly observed across NDD/NPD, including anxiety (16, 26), sameness/rituals (27, 28), social functioning difficulties (29, 30), positive and negative symptoms of psychoses (31–33) and externalizing problems (34). Thus, the existence of measures that can comprehensively evaluate noted processes that represent vital risk factors for developing and maintaining a range of clinically impactful symptoms seen across NDD and NPD is crucial for advancing etiological research and identifying treatment targets.
Although it is widely accepted that EF is best understood as a complex and multifaceted domain comprising several distinct, yet related subdomains mediated by fronto-striatal circuits (1, 35), the consensus in terms of the specific components is still lacking. More specifically, certain frameworks have focused on decontextualized and non-affective processes, emphasizing working memory, response inhibition, and set shifting, and in some instances, sequencing and planning as core EF components [e.g., (2, 36)]. Others have emphasized the need for broader conceptualization that in addition to noted “cool” EF components, also includes affective-related (or “hot”) processes, in particular, monitoring and modifying emotional responses, or ER (3, 37, 38), and risk aversion/risk-taking that encompasses evaluation of reward and punishment probability (39–41). In addition, although processing speed has not been consistently included in the definitions of EF, it has been noted that it is crucial for EF models and assessments to consider and capture processing speed given that it can underly distinct EF subdomains and has been demonstrated to show additional predictive validity regarding a range of psychopathology manifestations (42, 43). Given the noted complexity and lack of universally agreed on EF taxonomy, it is necessary for instruments to enable fine-grained capture of individual differences in a range of distinct “hot” and “cold” EF subdomains.
Several questionnaire instruments were specifically designed for assessing EF deficits in NDD and NPD. These include the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning, second edition [BRIEF-2; (44)], the Comprehensive Executive Function Inventory [CEFI; (45)], and the Barkley Deficits in Executive Functioning Scale [BDEFS; (46, 47, 48)]. These measures have been shown to have better ecological validity compared to performance-based and experimental batteries, including, but not limited to, Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System [D-KEFS; (49)], Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery [CANTAB; (50)], and a Developmental Neuropsychological Assessment, Second Edition [NEPSY-2; (51)], NIH Toolbox Cognition Battery (52), or the Computerized Battery for Neuropsychological Evaluation of Children [BENCI; (53)]. Further, the BRIEF-2, CEFI, and BDEFS have been extensively used across normative and a range of clinical populations, generally showing good validity and reliability. However, the above-noted instruments present a range of significant limitations. Firstly, BRIEF-2, CEFI, and BDEFS are all commercial instruments which significantly limits access and use in large-scale clinical and research collection efforts. Secondly, these measures have poor coverage and representation of specific domains. For instance, the BDEFS does not capture set-shifting. Importantly, none of the instruments capture the upregulation of positive emotions, which is a facet of ER that is just as important as the down-regulation of negative emotions (54–56) and when excessive, may also be associated with reward sensitivity and difficulties avoiding risk (57). Thirdly, there is limited evidence for the construct validity, measurement invariance, and conditional reliability of existing instruments (58). Measurement invariance is particularly important for ensuring that the measure is applicable across a broad demographic spectrum. Demonstrating good conditional reliability across a wide range of score levels is crucial for accurate assessment across neurotypical and pathological EF levels and essential for tracking change across development and due to interventions. Finally, rather than assessing everyday, developmentally appropriate behavioral instances related to specific facets of executive functioning, most available instruments assess symptoms/behavioral psychopathology thought to result from EF deficits. This focus on symptoms significantly limits the ability to capture subtle variations in functional abilities and to understand associations between these processes and specific symptom domains.
1.2. The present study
The present paper describes the development and preliminary psychometric evaluation of the Executive Functioning Scale (EFS)—a brief, freely available, informant-report measure specifically designed to address limitations of existing instruments and comprehensively characterize individual variation in specific, well-defined facets of EF across the normative-pathological continuum. The EFS was developed based on the recommendations for item generation and refinement outlined by the National Institute of Health’s Scientific Standards of the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) and in conjunction with NDD and NPD individuals and their parents. Detailed psychometric evaluation was conducted in two independent, large, representative samples spanning normative and atypical development and included evaluation of factor structure, measurement invariance, classical test theory and item response theory-derived reliability, and testing of convergent and discriminant validity.
2. Materials and methods
Parent informants were recruited using the Prolific online data collection service,1 and interested participants were directed via a link to the Qualtrics survey. Two separate data collections were conducted to establish exploratory and confirmatory samples. For the exploratory sample, data were collected from 03/04/2022 to 04/17/2022. A total of 2,486 informants consented and responded to the survey, with the final sample comprising 2,004 valid responses (124 respondents were excluded due to not completing the survey, 72 were excluded due to completing too rapidly to produce valid results, and 286 were excluded due to failing at least one of the four attention checks from the modified Conscientious Responders Scale [CRS; (59)]. According to informant reports, 169 children have received a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, 541 had other NDD/NPD, and 1,294 were neurotypical. For the confirmatory sample, data were collected from 05/03/2022 to 07/20/2022. A total of 1,361 informants consented and responded to the survey; however, given the considerable length of the survey, EFS data was collected only from 954 responders to reduce the participant burden (407 participants who did not complete the EFS completed additional instruments). Thus, the final confirmatory sample comprised 954 responses. Based on informant reports, 74 children have received a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, 249 had other NDD/NPD, and 631 were neurotypical. Inclusion criteria for both exploratory and confirmatory samples included: residence in the US, having a dependent child aged 2–17, and informant proficiency in English. Detailed characteristics across exploratory and confirmatory samples are presented in Table 1.
Table 1. Demographic and clinical characteristics across autism spectrum disorder (ASD), developmental disability (DD), and neurotypical (NT) controls across exploratory and confirmatory samples.
2.2.1. Exploratory sample
184.108.40.206. Demographic and diagnostic information
Informants completed a background survey indicating informant and child age, informant and child gender, child race/ethnicity, informant relationship status, household income, and estimates of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptom severity and cognitive level. Informants also indicated whether the child had a clinical diagnosis of neurodevelopmental or neuropsychiatric disorder, including intellectual disability/global developmental delay, speech/language disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder/conduct disorder, anxiety disorder, specific learning disorder, motor/coordination disorder, depressive disorder, bipolar disorder/mania, OCD, tic disorder, and feeding/eating disorder. All children without ASD but with other diagnoses were recoded to a developmental disability (DD) category. Participants with no developmental or neuropsychiatric diagnosis were assigned to the neurotypical (NT) group.
220.127.116.11. Executive Functioning Scale (EFS)
EFS items were developed and refined through the iterative steps described by the PROMIS framework described below.
18.104.22.168.1. Conceptual model generation
Systematic literature search was performed to identify existing EF instruments and conceptual models. As noted, there is a lack of universally agreed-on EF taxonomy. Given different definitions and that a wide range of potential EF subdomains put forward across different conceptualizations is strongly related to clinical symptoms observed across NDD and NPD, we took the position that it is important to capture a broad set of distinct “hot” and “cold” EF subdomains. Identified subdomains included: working memory and sequencing, response inhibition, set-shifting, processing speed, emotion regulation, and risk avoidance.
22.214.171.124.2. Item writing
Systematic review of the literature was conducted to identify existing scales relevant to each domain and content area. Scales reviewed included: (i) dedicated questionnaire measures of executive functioning such as the BRIEF, ECI, and BDEFS, (ii) dedicated experimental measures of distinct executive functioning domains such as the Dimensional Card Sorting Task, Stroop Task, as well as comprehensive testing batteries including D-KEFS (49), CANTAB (50), and a NEPSY-2 (51); (iii) general psychopathology and development instruments including the Behavior Assessment System for Children [BASC; (60)] and Infant–Toddler Social and Emotional Assessment [ITSEA; (61)], (iv) temperament and personality measures [e.g., the Infant Behavior Questionnaire (62)], and (v) measures of emotion regulation and self-regulation such as the Emotion Regulation Checklist (63) and Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (64). The first and senior authors reviewed instruments, and items across identified measures were organized into specific latent constructs, then pruned and adjusted for consistency. At least three items were written to ensure that the content area is adequately assessed and that future analyses on these items could identify any sub-factors within each domain. As much as possible, items were developed not to probe more than one construct, or the endorsement of an item is not a consequence of distinct processes.
126.96.36.199.3. Preliminary item evaluation and refinement
Fifty-two items were developed by the research team to evaluate each of the above executive functioning subdomains. The preliminary item bank was evaluated by ten neurodevelopmental disability clinician-scientist experts and ten neurodevelopmental disability caregiver/patient informants with regards to whether each item: (i) effectively evaluated the specific executive functioning subdomain (experts and informants), (ii) was relevant to patients (experts) or child (informants), (iii) was relevant to the full age and functional range of patients (experts), and (iv) was easy/difficult to understand (experts and informants). Neither parents nor experts indicated the need to remove any items; no additional behaviors/skills were identified as missing. Minor wording changes were made to several items following parental feedback.
188.8.131.52.4. Final scale
The final scale consisted of 52 items that were rated on a 5-point Likert scale (0 = Never, 1 = Rarely 2 = Sometimes 3 = Often 4 = Very Often). Parents were instructed to “for each item, please indicate how often over the last week the person shows this behavior, skill, or ability using the response options below.”
2.2.2. Confirmatory sample
In addition to the demographic and diagnostic information questionnaire and the EFS described above, informants completed a comprehensive set of questionnaire measures to evaluate the convergent and discriminant validity of the EFS. These measures included:
Abbreviated version of the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function [BRIEF-sf; (44, 65)]. BRIEF-sf is a 24-item abbreviated version of the standard BRIEF that has demonstrated good reliability and validity across three independent youth samples (65). BRIEF is an informant-report scale designed to capture different aspects of executive functioning. Each item is rated on a 3-point Likert scale (1 = Never, 2 = Sometimes, 3 = Often). The total raw score was used (higher scores mean more severe impairments).
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder assessment [ADHD-ASSESS; (66)]. ADHD-ASSESS is an 18-item informant-report scale designed to capture ADHD symptoms in children aged 2 to 17, including inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Each item is rated on a 5-point Likert scale A (0 = Never, 1 = Rarely, 2 = Sometimes, 3 = Often, 4 = Very Often). The total raw score was used (higher scores mean more severe impairments).
Comprehensive Anxiety Scale [CAS; (66)]. CAS is a 35-item informant-report scale designed to capture anxiety symptoms in children aged 2 to 17. The instrument provides a total score and six subscale scores covering generalized anxiety, social anxiety, separation anxiety, panic/physiological anxiety symptoms, obsessive/compulsive symptoms, and specific fears. Each item is rated on a 5-point Likert scale (0 = Never, 1 = Rarely, 2 = Sometimes, 3 = Often, 4 = Very Often). This study focused on the total raw score (higher scores mean more severe impairments).
Daily Living Skills Scale [DLSS; (67)]. DLSS is a 53-item informant-report scale designed to capture daily living skills in children aged 2 to 17. The instrument provides a total and three content subscale scores for enhanced interpretation across self-care, home care, and community participation. Each item is rated on a 4-point Likert Scale [0 = Not able to complete (total assistance needed), 1 = Requires significant prompting or assistance, 2 = Requires minimal prompting or assistance, 3 = Completely independent (does not require any assistance or prompting)]. For the current study, we focused on the total raw score (higher scores mean better ability).
In Qualtrics, prospective participants reviewed an electronic consent form. Participants who decided to continue with participation indicated consent electronically and began the survey. All participants were paid US$10 for survey completion based on the expected survey completion time (35 min). All data were collected anonymously.
2.4. Statistical analyses
Descriptive statistics for demographic and clinical factors were computed to characterize the sample.
2.4.1. Factor structure
Exploratory structural equation models (ESEM) were estimated (68) in the exploratory sample to identify the factor structure of the EFS. These models used weighted least squares mean and variance adjusted estimation, specified four to seven specific factors with an additional general bifactor that included estimation of loadings from all items, and were estimated using geomin rotation. Models were re-estimated in the confirmatory subsample, and the best-fitting model was chosen using a combination of fit statistics and interpretability. Once the best-fitting ESEM model was identified, this model was re-estimated in the total sample, and an equivalent confirmatory ESEM model with all standardized loadings <0.20 set to 0 was estimated. Model fit was evaluated using the comparative fit index (CFI), Tucker–Lewis index (TLI), root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA), and the 95% confidence interval of RMSEA were used to examine model fit (69, 70).
2.4.2. Measurement invariance
The optimal model derived from the factor analyses described above was used as the basis for the evaluation of measurement invariance (71) across age groups (ages 2–4, 5–11, and 12–17 years), sex (male and female), race (Caucasian and other), and ethnicity (Hispanic and non-Hispanic). To examine measurement invariance (equivalence), a series of multi-group confirmatory factor analyses were computed using the theta parameterization and weighted least square mean and variance adjusted (WLSMV) estimation for categorical indicators, following recommended conventions (72) and prior work (73). Model comparisons for measurement invariance analyses were based on empirical work indicating that a drop in CFI or TLI > 0.01 or an increase in RMSEA > 0.01 implies measurement non-equivalence (74, 75).
Using the optimal factor model, items with substantive loadings were assigned to scales and classical test theory (CTT) reliability (internal consistency and correct item-total correlations) (76), and item response theory (IRT) analyses were conducted (77) in the entire sample (n = 2,004). IRT analyses were conducted separately for each scale as the multi-dimensional bifactor IRT model was not possible to estimate. Analyses used maximum likelihood estimation with robust standard errors, and a logit link with the single factor mean and variance fixed to 0 and 1, respectively. Reliability estimates falling in the ranges 0.70 to 0.79, 0.80 to 0.89, and >0.90 were considered fair, good, and excellent (78). Average corrected item-total correlations ≥0.30 were considered adequate or better (76). Differential item and test functioning were evaluated by examining differences in item characteristic curves and test information curves across age groups, sex, race, and ethnicity.
2.4.4. Convergent and discriminant validity
Convergent and discriminant validity were computed using bivariate correlations (Pearson or Spearman’s non-parametric, where applicable).
3.1. Participant characteristics
The exploratory sample included 2,004 children and adolescents, and the confirmatory sample included 954 children and adolescents. See Table 1 for detailed characteristics across exploratory and confirmatory samples.
3.2. Factor structure
In the exploratory and confirmatory samples, ESEM suggested improvements in fit through the six specific factors with a general bifactor ESEM solution. Increases in CFI and TLI and decreases in RMSEA beyond this solution tended to be modest (≤ | 0.006|). The ESEM with seven specific factors and a general executive functioning bifactor had inconsistent difficult to interpret loading patterns across the exploratory and confirmatory subsamples. Thus, the ESEM model with six specific and one general factor was considered the optimal model for additional consideration (Figure 1) (Exploratory sample fit indices: CFI = 0.967, TLI = 0.956, RMSEA = 0.054 [95% CI:0.052,0.055], SRMR = 0.021; Confirmatory sample fit indices: CFI = 0.966, TLI = 0.955, RMSEA = 0.055 [95% CI:0.053,0.056], SRMR = 0.022). A final model was estimated in the total sample (N = 2,958) using this model. Fit indices for this model were: CFI = 0.963, TLI = 0.950, RMSEA = 0.057 [95% CI:0.056,0.058], SRMR = 0.021. Given the observation of substantive cross-loadings from items with primary loadings on other factors, a CFA model based on the ESEM model was not estimated. The final scoring was based on the ESEM model, with the subscale choice based on the highest loading for each item. Figure 1 presents the ESEM factor structure of the EFS in the total sample. Identified factors strongly resembled six conceptually based EF constructs of working memory and sequencing (example items: Follows a complete sequence of steps or actions; Can hold several pieces of information in mind at once; Is good at remembering the exact way something happened), response inhibition (example items: Stops what they are doing when told to stop; Focuses on finishing important tasks without being distracted by more interesting activities; Can resist immediate desires because they are not good over the long-term), set-shifting (example items: Can transition from one activity to another without problems; Misses important information because they are engrossed in what they are doing; Has trouble with mentally juggling multiple things) processing speed (example items: Seems to process information slowly; Responds slowly, even when asked to do something they enjoy; Works quickly and accurately on an activity), emotion regulation (example items: Has trouble soothing themselves; Remains upset or emotional longer than others; If they are sad, they seem to have difficulty lifting their mood), and risk avoidance (example items: Does not consider possible danger when doing something; Considers consequences before acting; Seems to crave excitement and new experiences).
3.3. Measurement invariance
Estimating measurement invariance for ESEM bifactor models often results in convergence problems. Therefore, a simple confirmatory model without the EF bifactor was used to estimate measurement invariance. This permits examination of measurement equivalence for the subscales with the assumption that if these show scalar invariance, then invariance of the general EF factor is likely. As can be seen from Table 2, results indicated strong (scalar) invariance across age, sex, race, and ethnicity groups.
Table 2. Measurement invariance analyses for the executive functioning (EF) specific factor model across sex, age, race, and ethnicity.
Table 3 shows detailed reliability indices. As can be seen, model reliability was excellent for the general factor (ω = 0.98) and specific factors (ω ≥ 0.89–0.96). Using item scores, internal consistency reliability was excellent for the total scale (α = 0.97) and very good to excellent for all subscale scores (α ≥ 0.84–0.94). Conditional reliability estimates indicated excellent reliability (≥0.90) for the total EF scale from extremely low (θ∼−4.2) to very high (θ∼ + 2.6) scores. Adequate or better reliability (≥0.70) was present for subscale scores in the range from very low (θ∼−3.0) to high scores (∼ + 1.8), except processing speed which showed a drop off in measurement precision beyond high average scores (θ∼ + 0.8) (Figure 2).
Table 3. Reliability statistics for Executive Functioning Scale (EFS) general (total scores) and specific factors (subscale scores).
Figure 2. Conditional reliability for the Executive Functioning Scale (EFS) total scale and subscales.
3.5. Convergent and discriminant validity
The EFS showed strong convergent validity with the 24-item BRIEF-sf (r = 0.85) and with the ADHD-ASSESS total score (r = −0.76); the latter is relevant because ADHD symptoms include several aspects of cognitive functioning that overlap or are closely related to executive functions, particularly impulsivity (response inhibition). Evidence of discriminant validity with measures of other aspects of functioning and psychopathological symptoms was also good, including associations with DLS (r = 0.59) and CAS (r = −0.49). Analysis of the pattern of associations with EFS subscales provided further evidence for convergent and discriminant validity. For instance, the EFS ER subscale was significantly more strongly associated with anxiety (measured by CAS; r = −0.60) than with daily living skills (measured by DLSS; r = 0.35). Table 4 shows the full list of correlations between EFS total and subscale scores with relevant measures used to establish convergent and discriminant validity.
The EFS is an informant-report measure developed to comprehensively capture a range of crucial executive functioning subdomains relevant across normative and atypical development, including individuals with ASD, other NDD, and NPD. Findings presented in this initial validation demonstrated that the EFS is a psychometrically sound suggesting that it might be a promising instrument for assessing executive functioning across research and clinical contexts. Indeed, the EFS had a clear and replicable factor structure across two independent samples showing strong reliability, good measurement equivalence across age, sex, race, and ethnicity, and preliminary evidence for good convergent and discriminant validity. Crucially, EFS is considerably briefer (52 items) than other dedicated EF measures, such as the BRIEF (86 items).
The EFS was found to have a well-differentiated factor structure that replicated well across exploratory and confirmatory sub-samples. The final model included six specific factors matching the originally hypothesized EF subdomains of working memory and sequencing, response inhibition, set-shifting, processing speed, ER, and risk avoidance, as well as a general EF factor. As noted, there is a wide range of definitions and conceptualizations of EF, some of which emphasize a narrower range of non-affective (“cool”) processes [e.g., (2, 36, 79, 80)] and others arguing for a broader conceptualization that also includes affective (“hot”) constructs (37, 39, 41). Although most disorders are associated with relatively uniform impairments across specific constructs of “cool” EF, there are pronounced variations in effect sizes of specific EF deficits in certain conditions (14). Similarly, different NDD and NPD have been suggested to show distinct profiles of “hot” EF subdomains, including ER and risk avoidance (41). Thus, it is essential to fully capture different EF subdomains to understand whether specific subdomains might be more strongly associated with particular aspects of psychopathology.
Several existing instruments, including the BRIEF, CEFI, and BDEFS, have been designed explicitly for assessing deficits in different aspects of EF in NDD and NPD. However, as noted, certain domain coverage and representation limitations, such as lack of coverage of risk avoidance/taking and upregulation of positive emotions, restrict their utility for comprehensive characterization of EF. Further, a key assumption that must be met for widespread measure adoption across diverse sex, age, race, ethnicity, and clinical groups is demonstrated invariance; however, there is little evidence for the invariance of the existing scales. Moreover, the majority of existing EF instruments lacks evidence for conditional reliability, a key feature necessary for capturing and tracking very high and very low levels of a particular trait with good precision. Conversely, the best-fitting EFS model was consistent across sex, age, race, and ethnicity groups, indicating that it can be interpreted consistently when implemented across diverse demographics. Further, conditional reliability estimates showed excellent reliability (≥0.90) for the total EFS from extremely low to very high scores and at least adequate reliability (≥0.70) for subscales from very low to high scores.
Despite the strengths of this two-sample development and validation approach, several limitations are important to note. The main limitation of this study was a reliance on informant reports, including diagnoses, cognitive levels, and symptom severity estimates. Given the online nature of the research and the need to collect large sample sizes across both exploratory and confirmatory samples, it was not possible to independently confirm the diagnostic status of participants and administer gold-standard diagnostic assessments, including the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule and the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised and dedicated cognitive assessments. However, it is essential to note that high rates of verification of ASD from clinical reports (81, 82) and high concordance (>97%) with clinician best estimate diagnoses and with standardized instruments (83) have been shown across prior online studies collecting parent-reported diagnoses. It has also been demonstrated that parent-report of children’s IQ strongly correlates with standardized clinical IQ testing [e.g., (84)]. In addition, given that the current study relied on parent-reported clinical information only to describe the sample, we believe that these variables are an adequate proxy at the psychometric evaluation stage. However, it will be important for future studies to further evaluate the factor structure and psychometric properties of the EFS in large samples of individuals with discrete categorically defined neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric diagnoses established based on the gold-standard diagnostic instruments and clinical consensus. The present study was further limited by the lack of a more comprehensive set of questionnaires and performance-based EF assessments and by the relatively small sample of individuals with ASD. Thus, given the described limitations, it will be crucial for future studies to further validate the EFS in clinical settings conducive to detailed in-person observational and performance-based assessments and, ideally, utilize longitudinal designs to explore the predictive validity of the EFS. Finally, given dynamic and non-linear changes in the manifestation and complexity of specific facets of EF across different stages of development, it will be important for future studies to provide more detailed testing of the EFS performance across different periods of development, in particular during first 5 years of life, and, where relevant, develop further items to capture developmentally sensitive and specific instances and manifestations of the EF. Although not a limitation per se, it is important to highlight the fact that EFS captures several constructs, including emotion regulation and processing speed, that are not included in all of the existing EF models. However, given that there is no universally accepted EF taxonomy and given the high clinical relevance of noted constructs across a range of neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric conditions, EFS was designed to provide a comprehensive capture of a broader range of EF-related constructs.
In summary, despite the noted limitations, the present data provide preliminary evidence that the EFS is a free, relatively brief, open-source, valid, and reliable measure for the comprehensive characterization of distinct subdomains of executive functioning that are relevant for the understanding of individual differences in clinical outcomes across a range of NDD and NPD. Further, EFS shows excellent measurement precision for capturing a wide range of abilities, which suggests a tremendous potential for its use for treatment tracking. Thus, with further replication, the EFS has excellent potential for wide adoption across research and clinical contexts.
Data availability statement
The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.
This studies involving human participants were reviewed and approved by John Carroll University Institutional Review Board. Written informed consent to participate in this study was provided by the participants’ legal guardian/next of kin.
TF, MU, and AH designed the study. TF and MU collected the data, had full access to the data, and conducted the analyses. MU, TF, RC, and AH drafted the initial manuscript. All authors critically reviewed and provided the feedback on the initial version of manuscript and approved the final version of the manuscript.
The study was supported by Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative–Director’s Award #831500 (PI: TF) and PTEN Research Foundation Grants #JCU-20-001 (PI: TF) and #UOM-20-001 (PI: MU).
We are sincerely indebted to the generosity of the participants who contributed their time and effort to this study. We would also like to thank the PTEN Research Foundation for their continued support.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.
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Keywords: emotion regulation, assessment, autism, executive functioning, working memory, response inhibition, self-regulation, neurodevelopmental
Citation: Uljarević M, Cai RY, Hardan AY and Frazier TW (2023) Development and validation of the Executive Functioning Scale. Front. Psychiatry 13:1078211. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2022.1078211
Received: 24 October 2022; Accepted: 16 December 2022;
Published: 10 January 2023.
Edited by:Jeffrey C. Glennon, University College Dublin, Ireland
Reviewed by:Wolfgang Rauch, Ludwigsburg University, Germany
Maria Cristina Porfirio, Policlinico Tor Vergata, Italy
Copyright © 2023 Uljarević, Cai, Hardan and Frazier. 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: Mirko Uljarević, email@example.com