Autism Symptom Severity and Social-Emotional Cognition Among Children with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder

Thursday, May 12, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
C. S. Albaum1, P. Burnham Riosa2 and J. A. Weiss2, (1)Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada, (2)York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized in part by social communication difficulties, such as deficits in recognizing and understanding body language and facial expression during social interaction (American Psychological Association, 2013). A large body of research in this area has focused on how emotion recognition differs between children with ASD and typically developing peers (Harms, Martin, & Wallace, 2010), but relatively few studies have focused on how symptom severity in particular relates to difficulties with social cognition. Understanding the relation between ASD severity and social cognition challenges may be useful in informing interventions focusing on social-emotional cognition targets.

Objectives: To identify the relation between autism symptom severity and social-emotional cognition in school-aged children with high functioning ASD.

Methods: Data were collected from 47 children with high functioning ASD (87.2% male) and their parents as part of a larger trial to improve child emotion regulation. Children were 8 to 12 years of age (M = 9.74, SD = 1.36) with at least average IQ (M = 103.40, SD = 13.87, Range: 79-140). Measures of interest were collected at baseline, before children received the intervention. We collected parent-reported autism symptom severity ratings using the Social Responsiveness Scale, Second Edition (SRS-2; Constantino & Gruber, 2012) and data on social-emotion cognition performance using the following two child administered tasks: 1) Reading the Mind in Films (RTMF; Golan, Baron-Cohen, & Golan, 2008), in which children watched a scene from a film and identified how a character was feeling; and 2) CogState-Research Tasks Social Emotional Cognition task (SEC; Collie et al., 2003), in which children identified the character whose emotional expression was different from the other three characters.

Results: When controlling for age and IQ, total ASD symptom severity scores were not significantly correlated with performance on the social-emotional cognition tasks (p > .05). Upon further examination of SRS-2 subscales, we found that when controlling for age and IQ, there was a significant partial correlation between parent-reported social cognition and SEC task performance (r (42)= -.36, p = .015). No other SRS-2 subscale scores were correlated with social-emotion cognition task performance nor was ASD severity correlated with performance on the RTMF task (p > .05).

Conclusions: Contrary to expected, overall ASD severity scores did not correlate with social-emotion cognition task performance when controlling for age and IQ; however, greater parent-reported social cognition difficulties was correlated with poorer performance on an emotion discrimination task. Global ASD symptomatology was not related to social cognition task performance in our sample. The implications of these findings will be discussed.