International Meeting for Autism Research: The Relation Between Self-Regulation and Social Competence with Peers Among Children with Autism

The Relation Between Self-Regulation and Social Competence with Peers Among Children with Autism

Thursday, May 20, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
3:00 PM
L. B. Jahromi , School of Social & Family Dynamics, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
S. E. Meek , School of Social and Family Dynamics, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
L. T. Robinson , School of Social & Family Dynamics, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Background: It is now widely accepted that the ability to regulate one’s emotions is a critical developmental task in early childhood.  Researchers have acknowledged that lack of emotion regulation is a serious concern for children with autism (Loveland, 2005; Prizant, et al.,2003; Wetherby et al., 2000). Recent research has shown that children with autism demonstrate fewer adaptive affect regulation strategies than matched comparison samples (Jahromi & Ober-Reynolds, 2009; Konstantareas & Stewart, 2006). What remains to be explored are factors associated with individual differences in emotion regulation for children with autism, and the degree to which dysregulation may explain the heterogeneity in children’s social outcomes, particularly their social competence with peers.  Such work is significant, as even high functioning children with autism have poor peer relationships (e.g., infrequent interactions; more disruptive or non-social behaviors; Koegel, Koegel, Frea, & Fredeen, 2001; McConnel, 2000). There is a wealth of data indicating that emotion self-regulation is clearly relevant to such social relationships in typical children (Eisenberg et al., 2000; Spinrad et al., 2006; NICHD Early Childcare Research Network, 2003).

Objectives: The current study will investigate self-regulatory skills among children with autism and a comparison sample of typically-developing children in order to explore the degree to which self-regulation and dysregulation are related to children’s social competence with peers.

Methods: Participants include 20 children with autism (per ADI-R) and 20 typically-developing children matched on their language age.  Children had a mean chronological age of 54.57 months (SD = 12.02) and mean mental age of 55.37 months (SD = 15.31).  After taking part in an initial visit to assess developmental level, children participated in a series of laboratory tasks designed to measure social and emotional development.  Measures include observations of self-regulation during frustration (Locked Transparent Box and Impossible Puzzles Tasks; Goldsmith, et. al. 1999; Smiley & Dweck, 1994) and parent questionnaires, including the Child Behavior Questionnaire (CBQ), Parents’ Reports of Children’s Coping Reactions (Eisenberg, et al., 1993), and the Emotion Regulation Checklist (Shields & Cicchetti, 1998).  Parents completed a follow-up questionnaire that included a measure of children’s social competence in peer settings, the Child Behavior Scale (Ladd, 1996).

Results: Our preliminary results revealed that children with autism showed significantly greater negative expressions (p < .05), poorer emotion regulation (p < .05), and fewer constructive regulation strategies (p < .01) in comparison to typical children. Interestingly, there was important variability in the scores of children with autism. Although the majority of these children showed heightened negativity, approximately 30% of the sample showed evidence of regulation.  Observational coding and analyses are currently underway to explore the relation of emotion regulation and dysregulation to these children’s social competence with peers in group settings.

Conclusions: Preliminary findings suggest meaningful individual differences in measures of frustration and emotion regulation among children with autism.  Further analyses will be conducted to explore whether observations of dysregulation predict children’s behaviors with their peers.

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