The Impact of Self-Regulation Skills on Academic Outcomes in Minimally-Verbal School-Age Children with Autism

Saturday, May 13, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
H. J. Nuske1, C. Kane1, K. Rump1, M. Pellecchia1, B. B. Maddox2, E. Reisinger Blanch1 and D. S. Mandell1, (1)University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, (2)Psychiatry, Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Background:  Self-regulation skills predict positive long-term academic and social outcomes in typically developing children. Children with autism often have difficulties in the area of self-regulation, particularly children with autism who are minimally verbal.

Objectives:  Our primary aim was to examine whether self-regulation skills at baseline moderate academic outcomes in minimally-verbal children with autism compared with children with autism with typical expressive vocabulary.

Methods:  Out of 137 children with autism who participated in school-intervention trial, 10 (7%) met minimally-verbal (MV) criteria (DiStefano et al., 2016, Autism Research; < 20 words) and 43 (31%) met typical expressive vocabulary criteria (TEV; t score 40-60 on Differential Abilities Scales (DAS) Picture Naming sub-test). The MV and TEV groups were rated on the frequency of their self-regulation difficulties by researchers after a standardised observation and their academic abilities (DAS standard score) were measured at the start and end of the school year (T1 and T2, respectively).

Results:  As expected, the MV group had more frequent difficulties in self-regulation than the TEV group at the start of the school year (see Figure 1). Contrary to expectations, after controlling for DAS T1 scores, the only significant predictor of DAS T2 scores was self-regulation difficulties at T1, b = 5.24, t(48) = 2.44, p= .02, with more frequent self-regulation difficulties predicting greater academic gains. To understand this further, we examined within group correlations between self-regulation difficulties at T1 and DAS changes scores (DAS T2 – DAS T1). Results showed that the above prediction was driven by the TEV group (r(41) = .42, p < .01; see Figure 2) rather than the MV group (r(8) = .39, p < .27).

Conclusions:  Results suggest an unusual relationship between self-regulation difficulties and academic outcomes in children with autism with typical expressive vocabulary, which may be indicative of the impact of self regulation difficulties on the accuracy of academic test scores for children at the beginning of the school year. These preliminary results will be followed up in an additional sample of over 400 children with ASD.