International Meeting for Autism Research: Male Teens with Asperger's Syndrome and Nonverbal Learning Disorder Learn about Stress and Its Physiological Signs

Male Teens with Asperger's Syndrome and Nonverbal Learning Disorder Learn about Stress and Its Physiological Signs

Friday, May 21, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
9:00 AM
D. A. Lucci , YouthCare, Massachusetts General Hospital, Wellesley, MA
D. S. McLeod , YouthCare, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, MA
Background: It is well documented that stress management is an important life skill for individuals with AS and NLD.  Often these individuals have heightened levels of stress and lack an awareness of the causes and the physiological signs. 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 (Symtrend/Apple iTouch) and direct instruction about stress, teens with AS and NLD would increase self-awareness in recognizing their personal stressors and physiological signs of stress.

Methods: Nine adolescent males: 8 diagnosed with AS and 1 diagnosed with NLD, ADHD and Sensory Integration; 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. Boys 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.

Instruction regarding stress took place regularly. Teens had multiple opportunities throughout the day to rate themselves on multiple variables related to stress. They were taught ten physiological signs of stress such as: tension in chest, perspiring etc., fifteen different relaxation techniques (e.g. deep breathing, yoga, etc.) and fourteen different stressors (e.g. change in routine, being teased, etc).  They recorded their experience of stress by indicating their stressors and physiological signs by 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, After-Lunch, Afternoon and End of Day) and during specific activities (e.g. Science of Me, Social Thinking Group etc.). Each setting and activity had its own set of data collection questions.

Results: Direct teaching and the use of technology did increase self-awareness on several dimensions of stress.  Correlations were computed to evaluate teen recordings on stressors and physiological signs. The physiological indicators of stress (e.g. stomach pain, tension in back/arms, neck/head/jaw and feeling hot) were positively endorsed where as: shortness of breath, feeling cold, tension in chest, trembling and perspiring were not frequently endorsed. The stressors of perseverative thinking, negative self-thought, black & white thinking, thinking I’m stressed and experiencing something new were positively correlated with these physiological signs. Interpersonal Stressors (e.g. argue with a peer) were negatively or not-significantly correlated with physiological signs.

Conclusions: Direct teaching and technology did enhance teens’ understanding and self-awareness of stress. Further analysis will need to be conducted to determine if these physiological signs are representative of individuals with AS or just this group and if being self-reflective about one’s signs of stress can be broadened to include interpersonal stressors.