Does direct assessment of executive functions predict observed executive dysfunction in a clinical sample of children?: A comparison of latent assessment variables with observer ratings
Executive functions are processes which allow an individual to regulate and direct emotional, cognitive, perceptive, and motor processes to engage in purposeful, goal directed behavior (McCloskey, Perkins, & Van Divner, 2006). Deficits in executive processes are also central to many clinical childhood disorders and difficulties with academic and social learning (Latzman, Elkovitch, Young, & Clark, 2010; Mattison & Mayes, 2012). Despite professional agreement on the importance of executive functioning, there has been considerable debate as to how this construct should be conceptualized and evaluated (Meltzer & Krishman, 2007). The purpose of this research study was to explore the relationship between measurements of executive processes and observer ratings of executive dysfunction in everyday activities. Data from formal assessment instruments from a clinical sample of children 8 to 16 years of age were subjected to an exploratory factor analysis. Latent variables derived from this analysis were used to predict observer ratings of adequate versus impaired executive processes in the sample. Subtests used in analysis of formal assessment were drawn from test batteries commonly used in assessment of children: the Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System (D-KEFS; Delis, Kaplan, & Kramer, 2001a), A Developmental Neuropsychological Battery, Second Edition (NEPSY-II; Korkman, Kirk, & Kemp, 2007a), and the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities, Third Edition Normative Update (WJIII COG NU; Woodcock, McGrew, & Mather, 2007). The parent form of the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF; Gioia, Isquith, Guy & Kenworthy, 2000a) was used to determine the level of observed executive dysfunction in everyday activities. Results suggest that factors in the clinical sample approximated, but were less differentiated than, current models of executive function suggest. Factors consisted of tasks, which facilitated performance on executive tasks, as well as, tasks that directly measured executive processes. Latent variables derived from the factors were not adequate predictors of observer ratings of executive dysfunction in the overall sample; however, a factor comprising concept formation and working memory was a weak predictor of group membership in Caucasians. The implications of the research for practitioners assessing executive processes in referred children are discussed.