Date of Award

Summer 8-14-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor/Committee Member

Beverly J. Wilson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Thane Erickson, Ph.D.

Third Advisor/Committee Member

Beau Reilly, Ph.D., ABPP, ABPdN


Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit developmental differences in a number of domains, including memory. Short-term memory (STM) has been studied in children with ASD but the findings have been mixed. Children with ASD are also at increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Anxiety has been found to impact short-term (STM) and other cognitive functions in typically developing children. Limited research suggests that trait anxiety is associated with poorer STM in school-aged children with ASD. Given that STM develops throughout early childhood, understanding the impact of anxiety in younger children with ASD may be beneficial in providing the most effective treatments. In the current study, I evaluated the impact of anxiety on the relation between developmental status and visuospatial and verbal STM in young children with ASD. In line with previous research, I hypothesized that children with ASD and high anxiety symptoms would have the lowest performance on both spatial and verbal STM. The current sample consisted of 14 children (ages 3:0-6:11), both typically developing and with ASD, and their parents. Trait anxiety was measured via parent-report on the Spence Preschool Anxiety Scale (SPAS; Spence et al., 2001), and STM was measured using the Digit Span Forward and Recognition of Pictures subtest of the Differential Ability Scales – Second Edition (DAS-II; Elliott, 2007). The main effects of both verbal and visuospatial STM regressed on status were not significant; however, developmental status predicted higher anxiety. The moderating effect of anxiety on the relation between status and both verbal and visuospatial STM was not significant. Clinical implications include the need for increased focus on the treatment of anxiety in young children with ASD. In addition, these findings suggest the need for future, larger studies to continue to explore the impact of anxiety on cognitive functions in children with anxiety.