ABSTRACT The restrictive, stereotyped behavior in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is considered to be related to deficits in execu- tive function. In particular, cognitive shifting in executive function is deeply related to stereotyped behavior in ASD. Previous investigations have clarified that the lateral prefrontal cortex is involved in cognitive shifting when flexible changes in attention were needed. However, a few studies have revealed a direct association between cognitive shifting tasks and lateral prefrontal cortex activity in children with ASD. We examined cognitive shifting in 7- to 12-year-old children with ASD and typically developing children using the dimensional change card sort task. In addition, using near-infrared spectroscopy, we examined prefrontal brain activity in conjunction with cognitive shifting. The autistic children provided fewer correct answers and slower reaction times in the task than typically developing children. Fur- thermore, the autistic children displayed a decline in right lateral prefrontal cortex activity during the task compared with typically developing children. In addition, a negative correlation was observed between the severity of autism and brain activity during the task. These results suggest that the activity and physiological indices used in this study may be useful for identifying the symptoms of ASD and discriminating ASD from other disabilities.
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