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Emotion regulation in the context of frustration in children with high functioning autism and their typical peers


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.


Background:  It is well accepted that emotion regulation difficulties are a serious concern for children with ASD, yet empirical studies of this construct are limited for this population. The present study describes group differences between high functioning children with autism and their typical peers in frustration and discrete coping strategies for emotion regulation. We also use sequential analyses to test differences in the efficacy of individual coping strategies at regulating children’s frustration.

Methods:  Subjects were 20 children with autism (= 59 months) and 20 developmentally matched typically developing children (= 50 months). Measures of children’s frustration (negative facial expressions and behaviors, negative vocalizations, resignation) and emotion regulation coping strategies were observationally coded from structured video recordings.

Results:  Children with autism displayed a higher intensity and duration of resignation, and the group difference became most pronounced when children worked alone during the parent-absent segment of the locked box task. Children with autism used significantly more avoidance and venting strategies, and fewer constructive strategies than typical children. Sequential analyses revealed that social support strategies (orienting and verbalizing to the experimenter) were ineffective for children with autism, while these behaviors, vocal venting, and distraction strategies were all effective for typically developing children.

Conclusions:  The results go beyond the recent literature by offering a rich description of children’s efforts to regulate their frustration when faced with challenge, and point to important contextual differences in the efficacy of children’s coping strategies.