Cognitive disengagement syndrome (CDS; formally known as sluggish cognitive tempo), difficulties with social engagement, and lower levels of autonomy have been identified as maladaptive comorbidities in youth with spina bifida (SB). This study compared growth curves of CDS for youth with and without SB and examined whether these trajectories were associated with later functioning.
Longitudinal data spanning 8 years included youth with SB (n = 68, Mage = 8.34) and a demographically matched sample of typically developing (TD) peers (n = 68, Mage = 8.49). Adolescents, along with their caregivers and teachers, reported on youth social skills, behavioral functioning, and CDS. Growth curve models were examined by comparing CDS trajectories by SB status.
Growth curves indicated that youth with SB had higher levels of teacher-reported CDS at ages 8 and 9, but growth curves were relatively stable for both groups. When predicting social skills, higher levels of teacher-reported (but not mother-reported) CDS at baseline predicted worse social functioning for both youth with and without SB in adolescence. For the slope findings, higher rates of mother-reported CDS over time predicted worse social skills (β = −0.43) and lower levels of youth decision-making (β = −0.43) for the SB group, while higher rates of teacher-reported CDS predicted worse social skills for the TD group.
Next steps include understanding the impact that impaired social functioning and restricted autonomy have on youth with and without SB due to CDS to inform interventions. Additionally, advocacy for increased awareness of CDS-related impairment is needed, particularly for youth with chronic health conditions.