An experimental study of executive function and social impairment in Cornelia de Lange syndrome

Lisa Nelson, Hayley Crawford, Donna Reid, Joanna Moss, Chris Oliver

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    Background: Extreme shyness and social anxiety is reported to be characteristic of adolescents and adults with Cornelia de Lange syndrome (CdLS), however the nature of these characteristics is not well documented. In this study, we develop and apply an experimental assessment of social anxiety in a group of adolescents and adults with CdLS to determine the nature of the social difficulties and whether they are related to impairments in executive functioning.
    Methods: A familiar and unfamiliar examiner separately engaged in socially demanding tasks comprising three experimental conditions with a group of individuals with CdLS (n = 25; % male = 44; mean age = 22.16; SD = 8.81) and a comparable group of individuals with Down syndrome (DS; n = 20; % male = 35; mean age = 24.35; SD = 5.97). Behaviours indicative of social anxiety were coded. The Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function-Preschool version, an informant measure of executive function, was completed by participants’ caregivers.
    Results: Significantly less verbalisation was observed in the CdLS group than the DS group in conditions requiring the initiation of speech. In the CdLS group, impairments in verbalisation were not associated with a greater degree of intellectual disability but were significantly correlated with impairments in both planning and working memory. This association was not evident in the DS group.
    Conclusions: Adolescents and adults with CdLS have a specific difficulty with the initiation of speech when social demands are placed upon them. This impairment in verbalisation may be underpinned by specific cognitive deficits, although further research is needed to investigate this fully.

    Publisher Statement: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver
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    Original languageEnglish
    Article number33
    Number of pages41
    JournalJournal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2017


    • executive function
    • social anxiety
    • Cornelia de Lange syndrome
    • Down syndrome


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