Prospective memory in children with mild and severe autistic spectrum disorder
There is a growing body of research into the development of prospective memory (PM) in typically developing children but research is scarce in children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and rarely includes children with more severe symptoms. This study aimed to investigate event-based PM in children with ASD who had either mild or severe symptomology compared to typically developing children. Fifty six children participated in the study, 30 children with ASD aged between 5 and 13 years comprising two groups: 15 with severe ASD and 15 with mild ASD. They were matched for educational attainment with 26 typically developing children aged 5 to 6 years old. Three PM tasks were administered along with a retrospective memory task. Results showed children with severe ASD performed less well than typically developing children on two PM tasks but the children with mild ASD did not differ from either group. All children were able to benefit from an indirect subtle prompt to succeed on a PM task. However, only the typically developing children were seen to carry this forward and improve performance from one trial to another. No group differences were found on the most motivating (a toy reward) task. The findings suggest naturalistic tasks and motivation are important factors in the success of children with ASD on PM tasks, particularly for those with more severe symptomology. Where task parameters are favourable even children with severe symptoms can pass event-based PM tasks.