Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 46, Issue 10, pp 3270–3280 | Cite as

Relationship Between Executive Functioning and Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder in 6–8 Year Old Children

  • Rachel Jane Neely
  • Jessica Leigh Green
  • Emma Sciberras
  • Philip Hazell
  • Vicki Anderson
Original Paper


This study examined relationships between executive functioning (EF) and ADHD/ASD symptoms in 339 6–8 year-old children to characterise EF profiles associated with ADHD and ADHD + ASD. ADHD status was assessed using screening surveys and diagnostic interviews. ASD symptoms were measured using the Social Communication Questionnaire, and children completed assessments of EF. We found the EF profile of children with ADHD + ASD did not differ from ADHD-alone and that lower-order cognitive skills contributed significantly to EF. Dimensionally, ASD and inattention symptoms were differentially associated with EF, whereas hyperactivity symptoms were unrelated to EF. Differences between categorical and dimensional findings suggest it is important to use both diagnostic and symptom based approaches in clinical settings when assessing these children’s functional abilities.


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder Autism spectrum disorder Comorbidity Child Executive function 



We would like to acknowledge all research staff, students and interns who contributed to data collection for this project. We would also like to thank the families, teachers and schools that have participated in the project.

Authors’ Contributions

RN performed the statistical analysis, participated in the interpretation of data, and drafted the manuscript; JG assisted with the statistical analysis, interpretation of data and drafting the manuscript; ES participated in the design and coordination of the study, interpretation of data and drafting the manuscript; PH participated in the design of the study and revised the manuscript critically for important intellectual content; VA participated in the design of the study, interpretation of data, and drafting the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


The study received funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC Project Grant #1008522) and internal funding from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. RN’s research is supported by Murdoch Children Research Institute (MCRI). JG is funded by a Monash University Australian Postgraduate Scholarship (APA; 2012–2015). ES is funded by an NHMRC Early Career Fellowship in Population Health 1037159 (2012–2015) and an NHMRC Career Development Fellowship 1110688 (2016–2019). VA is funded by an NHMRC Senior Practitioner Fellowship 607333 (2010–2014). Research at the MCRI is supported by the Victorian Government’s Operational Infrastructure Program. The sponsors, had no role in study design; the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; writing of the report; or the decision to submit the article for publication.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

VA declares a financial disclosure and conflict of interest associated with the Test of Everyday Attention for Children (TEA-Ch), as she receives royalties from Pearson Publishing. All other authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

Ethical approval was granted by the Human Research Ethics Committees of the Royal Children’s Hospital (#31056) and the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (#2011_001095). All procedures performed in the study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all participants and ethical approval was granted by the Human Research Ethics Committees of the Royal Children’s Hospital (#31056) and the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (#2011_001095).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel Jane Neely
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jessica Leigh Green
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Emma Sciberras
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
    • 6
  • Philip Hazell
    • 7
  • Vicki Anderson
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
  1. 1.The University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Murdoch Childrens Research InstituteParkvilleAustralia
  3. 3.School of Psychological SciencesMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  4. 4.School of PsychologyDeakin UniversityBurwoodAustralia
  5. 5.The Royal Children’s HospitalParkvilleAustralia
  6. 6.School of PsychologyDeakin UniversityBurwoodAustralia
  7. 7.Discipline of PsychiatrySydney Medical SchoolConcord WestAustralia

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