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Executive function skills are linked to restricted and repetitive behaviours: Three correlational meta analyses

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

E-pub ahead of print
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>6/01/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Autism Research
Publication StatusE-pub ahead of print
Early online date6/01/21
<mark>Original language</mark>English


There is a consensus on the centrality of restricted and repetitive behaviours (RRBs) in the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), yet the origins of these behaviours are still debated. We reconsider whether executive function (EF) accounts of RRBs should be revisited. EF deficits and high levels of RRBs are often pronounced in individuals with ASD and are also prevalent in young typically developing children. Despite this, the evidence is mixed, and there has been no systematic attempt to evaluate the relationship across studies and between task batteries. We examine recent evidence, and in three highly powered random-effects analyses (N= 2964), examine the strength of the association between RRB levels and performance on set shifting, inhibitory control, and parental-report based EF batteries. The analyses confirm significant associations between high levels of the behaviours and poor EF skills. Moreover, the associations remained stable across typical development and in individuals with ASD and across different types of EF measures. These meta-analyses consolidate recent evidence identifying that cognitive mechanisms correlate with high RRBs that are seen in individuals with ASD, as well as in typical development. We propose that the EF account may be critical for guiding future interventions in ASD research.