Lower Writing Task Engagement Found in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

September 18, 2020

Investigators did not find differences between children with ASD and children with ADHD after accounting for task behavior durations as percentages of total used task time.

Children diagnosed with the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often demonstrate heterogeneous writing skills that are generally lower than their typically developing peers, similar to children with attention difficulties such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Recently, researchers have found children with ASD spend less time engaging in writing tasks compared to other children. However, previous studies have not examined engagement specifically within the writing task environment.

A team, led by Matthew Carl Zajic, PhD, School of Education, University of California, Davis, compared the differences in visual attention and writing task behaviors and relationships between task behaviors and age, cognitive skills, and ASD and ADHD symptom severity.

In the study, the investigators used video observation data collected from 121 school-aged children—60 with ASD, 32 with ADHD, and 29 typically developing children.

The results show that groups mostly spent time looking at and writing on the draft. However, the prevalence of this was lowest in the group with autism spectrum disorder.

There were also no differences found between the ASD and ADHD groups after accounting for task behavior durations as percentages of total used task time.

Each of the groups spent very little time looking at their outcomes and looking away from the task, with all groups spending relatively more time looking at the task picture. The time spent engaged with the draft ultimately showed a positive relationship with writing performance across all 3 groups.

On the other hand, this showed a negative relationship between time spent looking at the task picture and writing performance only appeared in children with ADHD.

Both the ASD and ADHD groups showed negative associations between draft engagement and ASD symptom severity. However, these 2 groups did not show negative associations between draft engagement and ADHD symptom severity.

Implications were discussed for understanding writing task engagement in research and instructional contexts.

“Findings indicate lower draft engagement and similar task disengagement in children with ASD compared to their peers and moderate‐to‐strong relationships between writing scores and ASD symptom severity with within‐task engagement in children with ASD and their peers with attention difficulties,” the authors wrote.

An option to treat children with autism spectrum disorders could be selective serotonin receptor inhibitors like fluoxetine, which yielded significantly lower scores for obsessive-compulsive behaviors at week 16 in a 2019 study.

The participants were randomized to either receive fluoxetine (n=75) or placebo (n=71). The medication group received either 4 or 8 mg/d dosages for the first week, depending on their weight.

In the study, the fluoxetine group had a mean score of 9.02 points, while the placebo group had a mean score of 10.89 points, which was deemed statistically significant.

However, a prespecified analysis that accounted for potentially confounding factors and baseline was null.

The study, “Observing Visual Attention and Writing Behaviors During a Writing Assessment: Comparing Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to Peers with Attention‐Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Typically Developing Peers,” was published online in Autism Research.