Episodic future thinking and narrative discourse generation in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

A. Marini, F. Ferretti, A. Chiera, R. Magni, I. Adornetti, S. Nicchiarelli, S. Vicari, G. Valeri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Individuals with Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have difficulties in the recollection of past experiences (Episodic Memory). Accumulating evidence suggests that they might have also difficulties in the ability to imagine potential future scenarios (Episodic Future Thinking, EFT) and in narrative generation skills. This investigation aimed to determine 1) whether impairments of EFT can be identified in a large cohort of children with high functioning ASD using a task with minimal narrative demands; and 2) if such impairments are related to the ability to generate a narrative's scenario. 77 children with high-functioning ASD and 77 children with typical development were recruited for the study. The two groups were balanced for age, level of formal education, and IQ. EFT was assessed by administering a task with minimal narrative demands, whereas narrative generation skills were assessed with three tasks requiring children to generate past, middle or future episodes in a narrative discourse. With respect to control participants, a subgroup of children with ASD had impaired EFT skills and also showed significant impairments in the ability to generate adequate narratives. On the contrary, participants with spared EFT had normal performance on the narrative generation task. Interestingly, EFT skills predicted narrative generation abilities in both groups. The results of this study support the hypothesis that EFT may be impaired in some but not all children with ASD and of a relation between difficulties with EFT and impairments in the process of narrative generation. The assessment of EFT should employ tasks that do not require narrative production, as children with impaired EFT may also have reduced narrative skills.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)178-188
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neurolinguistics
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2019


  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Neuropsychology
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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