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Short-term memory span and cross-modality integration in younger and older adults with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder

Ring, M., Guillery-Girard, B., Quinette, P. , Gaigg, S. B. ORCID: 0000-0003-2644-7145 & Bowler, D. M. ORCID: 0000-0002-9884-0627 (2020). Short-term memory span and cross-modality integration in younger and older adults with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism Research: official journal of the International Society for Autism Research, 13(11), pp. 1970-1984. doi: 10.1002/aur.2387


This study tested whether adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) show the same pattern of difficulties and absence of age-related differences in short-term memory (STM) as those that have been reported in episodic long-term memory (LTM).

Fifty-three adults with ASD (age range: 25-65 years) were compared to 52 age-, biological sex- and intelligence-matched typically developing (TD; age range: 21-67 years) adults on three short-term memory span tasks, which tested STM performance for letters (Verbal), grid locations (Visuospatial) or letters in grid-locations (Multimodal). A sub-sample of 34 TD and 33 ASD participants ranging in age from 25-64 years completed a fourth multimodal Integration task. We also administered the Color Trails Test as a measure of executive function.

ASD participants’ accuracy was lower than that of the TD participants on the three span tasks (Cohen’s d: 0.26 to 0.50). The Integration task difference was marginally significant (p = .07) but had a moderate effect size (Cohen’s d = 0.50). Regression analyses confirmed reduced STM performance only for older TD participants. Analyses also indicated that executive processes played a greater role in the ASD group’s performance.

The demonstration of similar difficulties and age-related patterning of STM in ASD to those documented for LTM and the greater recruitment of executive processes by older ASD participants on the Integration task suggest a compensatory role of frontal processes both as a means of achieving undiminished task performance and as a possible protection against older age cognitive decline in ASD. Longitudinal research is needed to confirm this.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2020 The Authors. Autism Research published by International Society for Autism Research and Wiley Periodicals LLC. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution‐NonCommercial‐NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non‐commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.
Publisher Keywords: autism spectrum disorder, short-term memory, span, binding, integration
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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