Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 2010


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



School Psychology


School of Education

Committee Chair

Jeffrey Miller

Committee Member

Sharon Arffa

Committee Member

Ara Schmitt


Asperger's, autism, development, executive functioning, NVLD


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a broad classification of pervasive developmental disorders characterized by impairments in the development of reciprocal social and communication skills, abnormal language development, and a restricted repertoire of behaviors and interests. Evidence suggests that individuals with ASD also experience deficits in executive functioning, particularly cognitive flexibility. Deficits in cognitive flexibility have been related to the presence of repetitive behaviors and interests in adults with ASD. The goal of this study was to extend these findings to children and adolescents with Asperger's Disorder. In addition, this study examined comparisons in executive functioning between children and adolescents with Asperger's Disorder and those with nonverbal learning disability (NVLD), a similar syndrome generally thought to lack repetitive and stereotyped behaviors characteristic of Asperger's Disorder. It was hypothesized that children and adolescents with Asperger's Disorder would perform more poorly on measures of cognitive flexibility/shifting and planning than those with NVLD. Group differences in other domains of executive functioning (e.g. inhibition and working memory) are not expected. Finally, it was hypothesized that cross-sectional age comparisons would reveal a greater discrepancy between adolescents (age range 13-18) with Asperger's Disorder and NVLD than children (age range 8-12) on measures of cognitive flexibility/shifting, with the Asperger's Disorder groups performing more poorly in both cases. Groups of children and adolescents with Asperger's Disorder (n = 26) and NVLD (n = 25) were compared on measures of executive functioning. Results indicated a statistically significant relationship between repetitive behaviors and shifting behaviors in children and adolescents with Asperger's Disorder. In addition, children and adolescents with Asperger's Disorder demonstrated greater impairment in shifting behavior on a parent report of executive functioning compared to those with NVLD. Cross-sectional age comparisons did not reveal significant differences between groups. Although children and adolescents in these groups are diagnostically similar, those with Asperger's Disorder demonstrated significant deficits in cognitive flexibility/shifting compared to those with NVLD. Implications of these findings and recommendations for future research were discussed.