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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Remediation of Episodic Memory Deficits in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Examination of the Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

  • Author(s): Zielinski Deane, Kaycie
  • Advisor(s): Wood, Jeffrey J
  • et al.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a development delay marked by impairment in social communication and behaviors, resulting in interpersonal relationship deficits (Bowler, Gaigg & Lind, 2011). These social deficits persist throughout the individual’s life (Crane & Goddard, 2008), thus it is important to explore various etiologies and interventions to remediate these struggles. One area that has been implicated as potentially contributing to social deficits in ASD is episodic memory (EM), or an individual’s ability to re-experience themselves in a past event (Boucher & Bowler, 2008; Hare, Mellor & Azmi, 2006). There are two forms of EM, autobiographical in which the person was actively involved and non-autobiographical in which the person was an observer (Lind, 2010; Gilboa, 2004). Autobiographical EM is reliant on autonoetic awareness, or an understanding of one’s personal experience (Wheeler et al., 1997) where non-autobiographical EM is reliant on theory of mind, or an understanding of other’s experience (Baron-Cohen, 2000). To better understand EM deficits in children with ASD, this study sought to understand if these weaknesses could be remediated through the use of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and what cognitive processes and additional factors might impact the outcome of treatment. Participants included 73 children (59 male) ages 6-13 with high functioning ASD. Participants were administered two types of EM measures, one that assessed short-term non-autobiographical EM and one that assessed long-term autobiographical EM, before and after participation in either a group or individual 32 week CBT intervention. Results indicated that autobiographical EM functioning was impacted by participant’s processing speed and narrative ability. Non-autobiographical EM functioning was influenced by participant age and the severity of their ASD symptoms. Findings also suggest that children who received individual therapy performed better on both measures after receiving treatment. Therefore, based on these outcomes it appears that EM functioning in children with ASD can be improved through the use of CBT. Future research should examine how this improvement impacts social functioning.

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