Time reproduction performance is associated with age and working memory in high-functioning youth with autism spectrum disorder

Autism Res. 2015 Feb;8(1):29-37. doi: 10.1002/aur.1401. Epub 2014 Jul 30.


Impaired temporal processing has historically been viewed as a hallmark feature of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Recent evidence suggests temporal processing deficits may also be characteristic of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, little is known about the factors that impact temporal processing in children with ASD. The purpose of this study was to assess the effects of co-morbid attention problems, working memory (WM), age, and their interactions, on time reproduction in youth with and without ASD. Twenty-seven high-functioning individuals with ASD and 25 demographically comparable typically developing individuals (ages 9-17; 85% male) were assessed on measures of time reproduction, auditory WM, and inattention/hyperactivity. The time reproduction task required depression of a computer key to mimic interval durations of 4, 8, 12, 16, or 20 sec. Mixed effects regression analyses were used to model accuracy and variability of time reproduction as functions of diagnostic group, interval duration, age, WM, and inattention/hyperactivity. A significant group by age interaction was detected for accuracy, with the deficit in the ASD group being greater in younger children. There was a significant group by WM interaction for consistency, with the effects of poor WM on performance consistency being more pronounced in youth with ASD. All participants tended to underestimate longer interval durations and to be less consistent for shorter interval durations; these effects appeared more pronounced in those who were younger or who had poorer WM performance. Inattention/hyperactivity symptoms in the ASD group were not related to either accuracy or consistency. This study highlights the potential value of temporal processing as an intermediate trait of relevance to multiple neurodevelopmental disorders.

Keywords: inattention/hyperactivity; temporal processing; time estimation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / psychology*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Time Perception / physiology*