We administered a semantic verbal fluency (SVF) task to two groups of children (age range from 5 to 8): 47 diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD Group) and 53 with typical development (Comparison Group), matched on gender, chronological age, and non-verbal IQ. Four specific indexes were calculated from the SVF task, reflecting the different underlying cognitive strategies used: clustering (component of generativity and lexical-semantic access), and switching (executive component, cognitive flexibility). First, we compared the performance of the two groups on the different SVF task indicators, with the ASD group scoring lower than the Comparison Group, although the difference was greater on switching than on clustering. Second, we analyzed the relationships between the different SVF measures and chronological age, verbal IQ and non-verbal IQ. While in the Comparison Group chronological age was the main predictor of performance on the SVF task, in the ASD Group verbal IQ was the best predictor. In the children with ASD, therefore, greater linguistic competence would be associated with better performance on the SVF task, which should be taken into account in speech therapies designed to achieve improvements in linguistic generativity and cognitive flexibility.
Keywords: Autism Spectrum Disorder; clustering; flexibility; fluency; generativity; semantic; switching.