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Research Assistant Opportunity

Is Executive Function Associated with Academic Functioning in Autism Spectrum Disorder? [Research Assistantship]

Department: Speech and Hearing Sciences; Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
Professors Greg Wallace, PhD; Lauren Kenworthy, PhD


The Project: Executive function (EF) is an omnibus term describing supramodal, higher-order cognitive abilities including working memory, planning, flexibility, and organization, all in the service of problem-solving and behavioral regulation. It is now well-established that EF skills are crucial to academic functioning in both typically developing children and at-risk youth from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. For example, early EF skills, including working memory and inhibitory control, have been linked with school readiness during early development (Blair & Razza, 2007). Later developing EF skills also foster academic achievement as several studies now demonstrate that individual differences in EF performance are associated with individual differences in academic functioning during adolescence (Latzman et al., 2010).

Nevertheless, in spite of this robust evidence for linkage between EF skills and academic achievement in typically developing and at-risk youth, to date, very little evidence links these domains in the context of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This is particularly startling given that EF deficits based on both performance measures (e.g., McLean et al., 2014) and ratings scales (e.g., Granader et al., 2014) are well-established in ASD and that several interventions (e.g., Unstuck and On Target! Kenworthy et al., 2014) have been developed to target EF difficulties in the service of reducing ASD (e.g., repetitive behavior and rigidity) symptoms and buttressing other (e.g., social-communication) skills.

This study will assess EF skills utilizing a battery of EF tasks (assessing working memory, inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, etc.) and examine their unique contributions (above and beyond IQ) to academic functioning, including reading and math. This study will include approximately 30 children with ASD and 30 typically developing controls matched on age (7-12 years old), IQ (>75), and sex ratio.


Tasks: The research assistant will help with a plethora of tasks including, but not limited to: gathering data/testing, data entry, data cleaning, data analysis, literature reviews, and writing.


Time Commitment/ Credit Hours: 4-6 hours per week; varies


To Apply: Please send a curriculum vitae or resume to Dr. Wallace at: gwallac1@gwu.edu