Background: Executive functioning deficits are common in children with neurodevelopmental disorders. However, prior research mainly focused on clinical populations employing cross-sectional designs, impeding conclusions on temporal neurodevelopmental pathways. Here, we examined the prospective association of executive functioning with subsequent autism spectrum disorder (ASD) traits and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) traits. Methods: This study included young children from the Generation R Study, a general population birth cohort. The Brief Rating Inventory of Executive Function-Preschool Version was used to assess parent-reported behavioral executive functioning when the children were 4 years old. ASD traits were assessed at age 6 (n = 3938) using the parent-reported Social Responsiveness Scale. The Teacher Report Form was used to assess ADHD traits at age 7 (n = 2749). Children with high scores were screened to determine possible clinical ASD or ADHD diagnoses. We were able to confirm an ASD diagnosis for n = 56 children by retrieving their medical records and established an ADHD diagnosis for n = 194 children using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children-Young Child version (DISC-YC). Data were analyzed using hierarchical linear and logistic regressions. Results: Impaired executive functioning was associated with more ASD and ADHD traits across informants (for ASD traits and diagnoses: β = 0.33, 95% CI [0.30-0.37]; OR = 2.69, 95% CI [1.92-3.77], respectively; for ADHD traits and diagnoses: β = 0.12, 95% CI [0.07-0.16]; OR = 2.32, 95% CI [1.89-2.85], respectively). Deficits in all subdomains were associated with higher levels of ASD traits, whereas only impaired inhibition, working memory, and planning/organization were associated with more ADHD traits. Conclusions: The findings of the current study suggest a graded association of executive functioning difficulties along the continuum of ASD and ADHD and that problems in executive functioning may be a precursor of ASD and ADHD traits from an early age onwards.

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Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health

Otterman, L., Koopman-Verhoeff, E., White, T., Tiemeier, H., Bolhuis, K., & Jansen, P. (2019). Executive functioning and neurodevelopmental disorders in early childhood. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 13(1). doi:10.1186/s13034-019-0299-7