Autism Symptoms, Executive Functioning and Academic Progress in Higher Education Students

J Autism Dev Disord. 2020 Apr;50(4):1353-1363. doi: 10.1007/s10803-019-04267-8.


Many students with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) attending higher education drop out prematurely. The predictive value of self-reported daily executive functioning (EF) and (cognitive) performance-based EF (mental flexibility and working memory) for academic progress was evaluated in 54 young adults with ASD (Mage = 22.5, SD = 2.4, 72% male). Regression analyses showed that autism symptom severity explained 12% of variance in academic progress, which was raised to 36% by adding self-reported daily EF, and to 25% by adding performance-based EF. It is suggested that EF is a candidate marker for academic progress in higher education students with ASD and a candidate target for early intervention.

Keywords: Autism; Executive functioning; Higher education; Young adults.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Performance*
  • Adolescent
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnosis
  • Autistic Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Executive Function*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Self Report
  • Students / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult