Self-ordered pointing in children with autism: failure to use verbal mediation in the service of working memory?

Neuropsychologia. 2005;43(10):1400-11. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2005.01.010. Epub 2005 Feb 17.


This study tested the hypothesis that children with autism are impaired in using verbal encoding and rehearsal strategies in the service of working memory. Participants were 24 high-ability, school-age children with autism and a comparison group matched on verbal and non-verbal IQ, receptive and expressive vocabulary, and visual memory. Working memory was assessed using verbal and non-verbal variants of a non-spatial, self-ordered pointing test [Petrides, M., & Milner, B. (1982). Deficits on subject-ordered tasks after frontal- and temporal-lobe lesions in man. Neuropsychologia, 20, 249-262] in which children had to point to a new stimulus in a set upon each presentation without repeating a previous choice. In the verbal condition, the stimuli were pictures of concrete, nameable objects, whereas in the non-verbal condition, the stimuli were not easily named or verbally encoded. Participants were also administered a verbal span task to assess non-executive verbal rehearsal skills. Although the two groups were equivalent in verbal rehearsal skills, the autism group performed significantly less well in the verbal, but not the non-verbal, self-ordered pointing test. These findings suggested that children with autism are deficient in the use of verbal mediation strategies to maintain and monitor goal-related information in working memory. The findings are discussed in terms of possible autistic impairments in episodic memory as well as working memory.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Language Tests
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Problem Solving / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology*
  • Verbal Learning / physiology*