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Emotion Regulation: Relations with Socio-Emotional Adjustment in Preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Typically Developing Peers

Thursday, 2 May 2013: 16:00
Meeting Room 3 (Kursaal Centre)
N. M. Reyes1 and A. Scarpa2, (1)Psychology, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, (2)Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
Background: Previous research has widely reported that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) show poor social competence (Dawson & Faja, 2008); however, little is known about their emotional development (Begeer, Koot, Rieffe, Meerum Terwogt, & Stegge, 2008), which might be closely related to  their social development (Halberstadt, Dunsmore, & Denham, 2001). 

Objectives: Thus, the goal of this ongoing research study was to examine associations among emotion regulation, emotionality, and display of positive and negative affect with social skills and prosocial behaviors in children with High Functioning Autism (HFA) and typically developing (TD) children. 

Methods: In this cross-sectional study, 22 preschoolers participated in a comprehensive evaluation to assess their social, emotional, autism symptoms, and cognitive abilities. The Emotion Regulation Checklist, Emotion Regulation Questionnaire, Children Reaction Questionnaire, Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, Second Edition, the Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale (ADOS), and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, Fourth Edition (PPVT™-4) were used to assess 12 TD children (M chronological=46.08 mo.) and 10 children with ASD (M chronological age=69.29 mo.).

Results: First, in children with ASD, emotion regulation was associated with positive emotional reactions, social reciprocity, play and leisure skills, and coping skills. Nonetheless, in typically developing children, emotion regulation was only associated with positive emotional reactions and prosocial behaviors. Second, less emotion regulation competence was linked to increased emotionality and negative emotional reactions in children with ASD. However, less emotion regulation competence was only associated with increased behavioral problems in TD children. Further, emotionality was related to sadness and negative emotional reactions in the ASD group, but only to sadness in the TD group. Regarding display of emotions, positive emotions were linked to prosocial behaviors and social reciprocity in children with ASD, but only to social difficulties in children with typical development. Interesting, sadness was positively associated with prosocial behaviors and social reciprocity in children with ASD. Positive emotional reactivity was also associated with social reciprocity, play and leisure, and coping skills in TD children, but negatively related to social reciprocity in the ASD group. Further, emotional difficulties were positively related to behavioral problems and social difficulties in the ASD group. Notably, prosocial behaviors were associated with social reciprocity, play and leisure, and coping skills in both groups.

Conclusions: Preliminary results from this ongoing research project indicate that emotion regulation competence, emotionality, and display of affect are associated with social skills and prosocial behaviors in children with ASD and typical development. However, significant differences in socio-emotional correlates of emotion regulation also emerged between the groups. This is the first study that attempts to examine socio-emotional profiles in children with ASD, which can potentially inform the development and improvement of interventions addressing solely social skills difficulties.

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