Understanding executive control in autism spectrum disorders in the lab and in the real world

Neuropsychol Rev. 2008 Dec;18(4):320-38. doi: 10.1007/s11065-008-9077-7. Epub 2008 Oct 28.


In this paper, we review the most recent and often conflicting findings on conventional measures of executive control in autism spectrum disorders. We discuss the obstacles to accurate measurement of executive control, such as: its prolonged developmental trajectory; lack of consensus on its definition and whether it is a unitary construct; the inherent complexity of executive control; and the difficulty measuring executive-control functions in laboratory or clinical settings. We review the potential of an ecological-validity framework to address some of these problems, and describe new tests claiming verisimilitude, or close resemblance to "real life" demands. We also review the concept of veridicality, which allows for the measurement of the ecological validity of any task, and discuss the few studies addressing ecological validity in individuals with autism. Our review suggests that a multi-source approach emphasizing veridicality may provide the most comprehensive assessment of executive control in autism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / diagnosis
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Problem Solving / physiology*
  • Social Environment*