A 'Virtual Week' study of prospective memory function in autism spectrum disorders

Julie D. Henry, Gill Terrett, Mareike Altgassen, Sandy Raponi-Saunders, Nicola Ballhausen, Katharina Schnitzspahn, Peter Rendell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Prospective memory (PM) refers to the implementation of delayed intentions, a cognitive ability that plays a critical role in daily life because of its involvement in goal-directed behavior and consequently the development and maintenance of independence. Emerging evidence indicates that PM may be disrupted in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), potentially contributing to the functional difficulties that characterize this group. However, the degree, nature, and specificity of ASD-related impairment remains poorly understood. In the current study, children between 8 and 12 years of age who were diagnosed with ASDs (n = 30) were compared with typically developing children (n = 30) on a child-appropriate version of the Virtual Week board game. This measure provides an opportunity to investigate the different sorts of PM failures that occur. The ASD group showed significant PM impairment on measures of time-based (but not event-based) prospective remembering. However, only a subtle difference emerged between regular and irregular PM tasks, and group differences were consistent across these tasks. Because regular and irregular tasks differentially load retrospective memory, these data imply that the PM difficulties seen in ASDs may primarily reflect a monitoring deficit and not an encoding and memory storage deficit. PM performance was poorer under conditions of high ongoing task absorption, but the magnitude of this effect did not vary as a function of group. In both groups, time-based (but not event-based) PM difficulties were associated with functional outcomes in daily life, but only an inconsistent association with executive control emerged.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-125
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of experimental child psychology
Early online date26 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014


  • autism
  • prospective memory
  • functional capacity
  • executive control


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