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Emotion Regulation Patterns in Adolescents With High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder: Comparison to Typically Developing Adolescents and Association With Psychiatric Symptoms


  • Grant sponsors: NICHD, Grant numbers K23 HD060601 and P50 HD055748


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is often associated with poor emotional control and psychopathology, such as anxiety and depression; however, little is known about the underlying mechanisms. Emotion regulation (ER) is a potential contributing factor, but there has been limited research on ER and its role in comorbid psychopathology in ASD. In this study, we compared self-reported ER with self- and parent reports of psychopathology in 25 high-functioning adolescents with ASD and 23 age- and Intelligence Quotient (IQ)-matched typically developing controls. Contrary to expectations, both groups reported similar levels of adaptive, voluntary forms of ER (problem solving, acceptance, etc.). However, the ASD group reported significantly greater use of involuntary forms of ER that are typically maladaptive, including remaining focused on the stressor (e.g. rumination and emotional arousal) and shutting down (e.g. emotional numbing and being unable to think or act). Associations between ER and psychopathology were generally more robust using self-report rather than parent report. For both groups, greater endorsement of involuntary ER strategies was associated with higher ratings of psychopathology, whereas voluntary ER strategies focused on changing or adapting to the situation were significantly associated with lower levels of psychopathology. The magnitude and direction of association between ER types and psychopathology were similar for measures of depression and anxiety. These findings can help guide the development of psychosocial treatments targeting dysfunctional ER in adolescents with ASD. Interventions focused on ER as a transdiagnostic process may be a more robust method to improve emotional control and decrease emotional distress in ASD than disorder-specific interventions. Autism Res 2014, 7: 344–354. © 2014 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.