International Meeting for Autism Research: Asperger Male Teens' Use of Relaxation Strategies and Selection Preferences: Which Strategies for Which Stressors?

Asperger Male Teens' Use of Relaxation Strategies and Selection Preferences: Which Strategies for Which Stressors?

Thursday, May 20, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
1:00 PM
D. S. McLeod , YouthCare, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, MA
D. A. Lucci , YouthCare, Massachusetts General Hospital, Wellesley, MA
Background: It is well documented that stress management is an important life skill for individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) and Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (NLD).  Often these individuals have heightened levels of stress, have difficulty reporting their stressors and do not use relaxation strategies (RS). Successful efforts to address these concerns would likely lead to increased self-management of stress and ultimately healthier lifestyles and better emotional functioning.

Objectives: To demonstrate that through the use of technology (PDA) and direct instruction about stress teens would increase self-awareness in recognizing their stressors and demonstrate the use of RS they prefer and do not prefer in relationship to specific stressors.

Methods: Nine adolescent males: 8 diagnosed with AS and 1 diagnosed with NLD, ADHD and Sensory Integration Dysfunction; ages 14.6 – 16.6 with a mean age of 15.1, each had average to above average IQs on the WISC-IV.  Each participant was enrolled in a therapeutic summer program.  They were assigned to one group staffed by two adult counselors. Teens were admitted through an interview and submission of the following documents: school records, psychological reports and completion of our social checklist and the Walker-McConnell Scale of Social Competence and School Adjustment.

The clinical program included instruction in stress management that included ten RS (e.g. deep breathing, visualization, yoga etc.), fourteen stressors (e.g. unexpected change, perseverative thinking etc.) and fifteen different physiological signs of stress (e.g. tension in chest, perspiring etc.).  Teens recorded their use of RS and their stressors using an Apple iTouch.  Staff concurrently recorded their own perspective on each teen for comparison purposes.

Data was collected across 5 settings (Start of Day, Morning, etc.) and during specific activities (e.g. “Science of Me”, “Social Thinking”, etc.).  Each setting and activity had its own set of data collection questions.  The full data set was used to perform statistical analyses. 

Results:   Of all the RS taught, only deep breathing (DB) and visualization (VI) were consistently used by the teens.  There was a significant positive correlation between use of each of these strategies and each of the following stressors: unexpected change, unmet expectation and perseverative thinking.  There was a significant negative correlation between use of each of these strategies and their feeling forced to do an activity.

Conclusions: Male AS teens may prefer deep breathing and visualization strategies over the use of other strategies.  Further analysis will be needed to determine whether this preference is based on this specific training program or if there is some specific reason why this group prefers these strategies.  Teens used these strategies when met with unexpected changes and when their own thinking became perseverative.  The negative correlation between RS and feeling forced to do an activity might perhaps be understood by the teens’ negative emotion about being “forced” to do an activity interfering with their decision-making about the use of an otherwise employed RS.

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See more of: Clinical & Genetic Studies