Parent-Child Co-Regulation in Toddlers with ASD
Individuals with ASD have been known to exhibit deficits in emotion regulation (ER) capabilities (Konstantareas and Stewart, 2006). These deficits, in combination with impairments in social and emotional development that are characteristic of ASD, may compound negative outcomes and even moderate children’s response to intervention and treatment (Jahromi et al, 2012). In addition, parents, more specifically mothers, of children with ASD may serve a crucial role in facilitating and fostering their children’s ER development (Morris et al., 2011). In a sample of toddlers with ASD, mothers were found to use a range of strategies to co-regulate their child’s negativity in a free play interaction (Gulsrud et al., 2012).
This study aims to identify potential ER and co-regulation strategies used by toddlers with ASD and their parents during a distress task.
77 toddlers with ASD (24 – 36 months) completed a 3-minute distress task based upon the Lab-TAB distress task used with typically developing preschoolers (Goldsmith, Reilly, Lemery, Longley, & Prescott, 1999). Toddlers were given a locked toy box and a ring of keys and encouraged by parents to open the box. Videos of the task were coded for child negativity and then in 10-second intervals for presence of nine measures of child emotion regulation ER strategies and five parent co-regulation strategies. Descriptive statistics were collected on the types and frequencies of parent and child ER strategies, and the frequency of children’s expressed negativity. Chi-squared tests of independence were conducted to determine whether a relationship existed between strategy use and children’s expressed negativity. Finally, a bivariate correlation was conducted to discover whether a relationship exists between child’s ER strategy use and ADOS (ADOS; Lord et al., 1989) severity score.
Findings showed that children most frequently used “distraction” as a strategy, appearing in 57.1% of sessions. The least used child strategy was “physical self-soothing”, coded in 5.2% of sessions. Children used ER strategies on average 17.84 times (SD=8.80) per session. Parents were found to most frequently use “following” as a co-regulation strategy, utilized in 41.6% of the sessions. The least employed parental strategy was “active game-like engagement”, appearing in 1.3% of sessions. Parents used co-regulation strategies on average 2.32 times (SD=2.80) per session. Findings revealed that children used significantly more “tension release” (p=0.000) and “other-directed assistance seeking” (p=0.013) during sessions with negativity, and significantly more “idiosyncratic behaviors” (p=0.014) during sessions with no negativity. One parent strategy, “physical comfort” approached significance, appearing more in the presence of no negativity (p=0.054). A bivariate correlation revealed a significant correlation between child’s ADOS severity score and the frequency of their ER strategy use (r = 0.491, p < 0.01).
Results revealed that parents rely on a variety of strategies when attempting to co-regulate their toddlers with ASD, especially during distressing tasks. Children with ASD also attempt to regulate their own negative emotions, relying most heavily upon “tension release” and “other-directed assistance seeking”. Findings also suggest that ER strategy use increases in frequency in correlation with the severity of the child’s ASD.