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Prospective Memory and Working Memory in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Prospecve Memory and Working Memory in Adults with
Ausm Spectrum Disorder
Catherine Grainger1, David Williams1, Sophie Lind1 & Chris Jarrold2
1Department of Psychology, Durham University, 2Department of Psychology, Bristol University
-basedbasedprospecve memory (PM) involves remembering to carry out
an intenon upon the occurrence of a specied event (e.g., remove a pan
from the stove when the mer goes o).
-basedbasedPM involves remembering to execute an intenon at a parcu-
lar me (e.g., to remove the pan from the stove in 10 minutes).
Ausm spectrum disorder (ASD) Ausm spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that is
characterised by a parcular prole of strengths and weaknesses in
memory and cognion, although very few studies have explored PM.
Williams et al., under review found impaired me-based, but unimpaired
event-based, PM in children with ASD. However, parcipants may have been
compensang for underlying decits in event-based PM
Most neurotypical adults spontaneously recall their intenon upon the occur-
rence of the event (Ward et al., 2005), but individuals with ASD may succeed
on event-based PM tasks by rehearsing their intenon throughout. Under
these condions performance would depend on Working MemoryWorking Memory (WM),
the ability to hold informaon in mind during potenally distracng acvity.
In this study, adults with ASD and typically developing (TD) comparison adults
completed novel tests of event-based and me-based PM, as well as tests of
verbal and visual WM. Parcipants also self-reported the extent to which
they connuously searched for targets during the event-based PM task.
1. Time-based, but not event-based PM will be impaired in individuals with
2. Verbal WM will be intact in individuals with ASD
3. Event-based PM performance will be signicantly correlated with verbal
WM (but not visual WM ) in individuals with ASD.
4. Individuals with ASD will self-report searching for targets in the event-
based PM more than typically developing individuals.
Correlaonal analysis
Event-based failures * Verbal WM: : ASD:ASD: r r = .58, = .58, pp= .02; = .02; TD: r = .30, p= .27
Event-based failures * Visual WM: ASD: r = .19, p= .50; TD: r = .26, p= .34
Search Queson: Parcipants were asked to rate on a scale of 1-10 the ex-
tent to which they acvely searched for the event-based target throughout
the task (10 = searched the whole me; 1 = spontaneous retrieval of inten-
on, having not thought about it during the task).
Visual Storage task: Squares were presented to parcipants in dierent
locaons, in sequences of three to eight squares. Parcipants were asked
to recall the locaon the squares, in the order they saw them.
Verbal Storage task: Numbers were presented to parcipants, in sequenc-
es of three to eight. Parcipants were asked to recall the numbers they
saw, in the order they saw them in.
Predicted decits in me-based PM were found in individuals with ASD.
No group dierences in event-based task performance were found.
Verbal WM was not impaired in individuals with ASD, whereas visual WM
In individuals with ASD event-based PM performance was signicantly as-
sociated with verbal WM (not visual WM), whereas verbal WM was not
signicantly associated with performance in controls.
More than half the parcipants with ASD reported acvely searching for
the event-based targets, compared to just over a quarter of the TD parci-
These results suggest that individuals with ASD use atypical compensatory
strategies to perform well on event-based tasks despite limited underlying
Future research uture research could examine whether:
a) Suppressing verbal WM would cause greater impairments in PM perfor-
mance in individuals with ASD, compared to matched controls.
b) Improving WM ability (e.g. Holmes et al.,2009 ) in individuals with ASD
could improve ability in other types of memory.
Individual smuli presented
for 1000ms each
List of smuli appears for 5000ms, during
which parcipants made a correct/incorrect
500ms xaon cross
List of 7 Words
Figure 1: Outline of the ongoing task used in the
PM tasks.
Time-based Task:
The prospecve memory in-
strucon was to press a
buon aer two minutes of
the task .
Event-based Task:
The prospecve memory in-
strucon was to press a
buon every me they saw a
musical instrument in the list.
Event-Based Task
Time-Based Task
Prospective Memory Task
: p= .03
Figure 2: Number of incorrect me-based and event
-based PM trials, for individuals with ASD and TD
Visual Storage
Working Memory Task
: p=.04
Figure 3: Visual and Verbal WM performance, for individuals with ASD and
TD individuals.
Mean number of
incorrect trials
Number of trials
Table 1: Parcipant Characteriscs
ASD (n = 15 ) TD (n = 15) t p Cohen’s d
Age 31 (9) 34 (15) -0.72 .47 -0.26
VIQ 111 (15) 109 (9) 0.39 .70 0.14
PIQ 114(14) 115 (12) -0.08 .93 -0.03
AQ 35 (9) 13 (6) 7.51 <.001 0.81
Table 2: Mean response to the
search queson, in individuals with
ASD and TD individuals.
ASD TD Stasc p
of group
with a
score >5
Holmes, J. Gathercole, S. & Dunning, D. (2009). Adapve training leads to sustained enhancement of poor working memory in children.
Developmental Science, 12, 9-15.
Ward, H., Shum, D., McKinlay, L., Baker-Tweney, S., & Wallace, G.(2005). Development of prospecve memory: tasks based on the prefron-
tal-lobe model. Child Neuropsychology, 11, 527-49.
Williams, D., Boucher, J. & Jarrold, C. (under review). Time-based and event-based prospecve memory in children with ausm spectrum
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Working memory plays a crucial role in supporting learning, with poor progress in reading and mathematics characterizing children with low memory skills. This study investigated whether these problems can be overcome by a training program designed to boost working memory. Children with low working memory skills were assessed on measures of working memory, IQ and academic attainment before and after training on either adaptive or non-adaptive versions of the program. Adaptive training that taxed working memory to its limits was associated with substantial and sustained gains in working memory, with age-appropriate levels achieved by the majority of children. Mathematical ability also improved significantly 6 months following adaptive training. These findings indicate that common impairments in working memory and associated learning difficulties may be overcome with this behavioral treatment.
This study investigated the development of prospective memory using tasks based on the prefrontal-lobe model. Three groups each of 30 children, adolescents, and young adults were compared on prospective-memory performance using ongoing tasks with two levels of cognitive demand (low and high), and two levels of importance (unstressed and stressed) of remembering prospective cues. The Self-Ordered Pointing Task (SOPT), Stroop Color Word Interference Test, and Tower of London were also used to assess relationships between prospective memory and prefrontal-lobe functions. The children remembered fewer prospective cues than either the adolescents or adults, but the adolescents and adults remembered equally well. This trend increased significantly as the cognitive demand of the ongoing tasks increased. However, stressing or not stressing the importance of remembering made no difference to prospective-memory performance. Performance on the SOPT and Stroop Colour Word Interference predicted performance on the high- but not on the low-demand condition. These findings implicate the maturation of the brain's prefrontal region in the development of prospective memory.
Time-based and event-based prospective memory in children with autism spectrum disorder
  • D Williams
  • J Boucher
  • C Jarrold
Williams, D., Boucher, J. & Jarrold, C. (under review). Time-based and event-based prospective memory in children with autism spectrum disorder.