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Emotions and Aggression in Young Adolescents with an Autism Spectrum Disorder; A Longitidunal Study

Saturday, 4 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
C. Rieffe1, L. B. Pouw1, E. Broekhof1 and L. Stockmann2, (1)Leiden University, Leiden, Netherlands, (2)Centrum Autisme Rivierduinen, Leiden, Netherlands

Aggressive behaviors have been frequently observed in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but little research has been done to determine possible motives and causes of these behaviors. Poor emotion regulation skills could be causing these aggressive behaviors.  Clinicians sometimes argue that aggressive behaviors in children with ASD should not be interpreted the same way as in typically developing (TD) children. In TD children, a lack of empathy is associated with higher levels of aggression. Although children with ASD are known for their atypical empathic development, it has never been studied in relation to their aggressive behavior. Therefore, in this study, the main aim was to examine longitudinally the causal relationship between emotion regulation, empathy and aggression in young adolescents with ASD, as compared to their TD peers,


The main aim of this study was to examine the extent to which impaired capacity for emotion regulation and empathy would be causally related to more aggression, and whether these associations differed between young adolescents with ASD and TD adolescents,


The study included 133 adolescents (67 ASD, 66 TD, mean age 11 years, 7 months), who filled out self-report questionnaires on aggression, anger, and empathy. Data were collected 3 times, with a 9 month time-interval,


Cross-sectional analyses of the first data wave show that anger was related to more reactive and proactive aggression in young adolescents with ASD and in the TD control group. Yet, affective empathy was related to less reactive aggression in TD children, as expected, but to more reactive aggression in young adolescents with ASD,


The outcomes of this study support the idea that distress in others evokes over-arousal in young adolescents with ASD. This, in turn, causes aggressive behaviours, due to a combination of poor emotion regulation and impaired understanding of the emotions of others. The longitudinal data will be analysed for this presentation and allow us to discuss the extent to which the assumptions made on causality between emotion regulation and aggression will hold.

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