Working memory training in autism: Near and far transfer

Tunis Med. 2023 Dec 5;101(12):884-890.

Abstract

Introduction: The autistic population is expanding. It is generally recognized that executive function deficits (EFs) are at the core of this disorder. Working memory (WM) is considered a critical element in executive functioning. WM training is regarded as a promising new therapy that can improve EFs and reduce symptoms of autism by targeting WM through repetitive exercises.

Aim: To investigate the impact of WM training on WM, cognitive flexibility, planning, and clinical symptoms. Also, to examine whether age influences the remediation effects.

Methods: Only one group of 20 verbal autistic participants aged 6 to 21 years was included. They received 40 training sessions. The program used is called "Cogmed". Neuropsychological measures were administered before and after the intervention to assess the three EFs. The Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ) was exploited to evaluate its effects on clinical symptoms.

Results: Only 17 participants have completed the training. They showed significant and large improvements in WM subtests (p<0.01, η^2>0.06), cognitive flexibility (p<0.05, η^2>0.06), planning (p<0.01, η^2 >0.06), and symptoms (p<0.01, η^2 >0.06). Also, the ANOVA test revealed that the age and the intervention effects are not correlated in our sample (p >0.05).

Conclusion: WM training influences EFs positively in autism and reduces the severity of its clinical characteristics. Thus, it's an effective therapy that can be added to the management of this disorder.

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder*
  • Cognitive Training
  • Executive Function
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term*