Background: Pediatric-onset multiple sclerosis (MS) patients represent a subpopulation who are diagnosed during the course of development. Social cognitive deficits have recently been recognized in adults with MS. It is critical to identify whether these youngest patients with the disorder are also at risk.
Objective: To determine whether pediatric-onset MS is associated with social cognitive deficits.
Methods: Consecutively-recruited participants with pediatric-onset MS were compared to a group of age- and gender-matched healthy controls on Theory of Mind (ToM) task performance. Tasks measured facial affect recognition (Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test), detecting social faux pas (Faux Pas Test), and understanding the perspective of another (False Beliefs Task).
Results: Twenty-eight (28) pediatric-onset MS participants (median age 17 years) and 32 healthy controls (median age 16 years) completed the study. The MS participants performed worse than controls on all three ToM tasks: Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (p = 0.008), the Faux Pas Test (p = 0.009), and the False Beliefs Task (p = 0.06). While more MS than control participants were impaired on a measure of information processing speed (the Symbol Digit Modalities Test; 38% versus 6%), it did not account for the differences in ToM performance.
Conclusions: Social cognition may represent an area of cognitive functioning affected by MS in the pediatric-onset population. These processes are especially important to study in younger patients as they may have long range implications for social adjustment, employment, and well-being.
Keywords: Pediatric; cognition; multiple sclerosis; social cognition; theory of mind.
© The Author(s) 2014.