Emotion Regulation, Emotionality, and Expression of Emotions: A Link between Social Functioning and ASD Symptoms in Children with ASD and Their Peers

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
N. Reyes1, R. S. Factor2 and A. Scarpa3, (1)JFK Partners, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, CO, (2)Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA, (3)Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, Blacksburg, VA
Background: It is well documented that children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) experience profound social problems (American Psychiatric Association, 2013; Bauminger, 2013; Kanner, 1943), and demonstrate difficulties in emotional competence (Begeer, Koot, Rieffe, Terwogt, & Stegge, 2007; Hepburn & Wolf, 2013; White et al., 2013). To date, the link between emotional competence and social skills remains unexplored in young children with ASD.

Objectives: The goals of this study were (1) to investigate differences between emotion regulation (ER), emotionality, and expression of emotions in children with ASD and their typically developing (TD) peers; and (2) to examine the potential link between these areas of development and social skills and ASD symptoms.

Methods: Forty-six children with ASD (n=22) and their TD peers (n=24) were included in this study. The mean age for the ASD group was 69.36 months and for the TD group was 60.25 months. Parents reported information about their children’s social and emotional skills on the Emotion Regulation Checklist (ER), Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ), the Emotion Reaction Questionnaire (ERQ), Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales–2nd Edition (VABS-2), and the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS). Children also completed the Autism Diagnostic Observation Scheduled (ADOS).

Results: Differences in Emotion Regulation, Emotionality, and Expression of Emotions between Groups. Results indicated decreased ER skills, F(1, 41) = 56.69, p < .001, increased emotionality F(1, 41) = 27.11, p < .001, and decreased expression of emotions (anger, F(1, 41) = 6.58, p = .014, fear, F(1, 41) = 4.69, p =.036, and positive affect, F(1, 41) = 13.93, p = .001) in children with ASD compared to TD children.

Associations between Emotion Regulation, Emotionality, Social Skills, and Autism Symptoms. While better social skills were associated with decreased emotionality and increased expression of emotions in both groups (all p-values <0.05), better social skills in the VABS-2, r(20) = .67, p<.05, and the SRS-T, r(20) = -.47, p<.05, were linked to enhanced ER in the ASD group only. Also, enhanced ER, r(20) = -.53, p<.05, and increased expression of emotions, such as positive affect, r(20) = -.40, p<.05, and sadness, r(20) = -.50, p<.05, were also correlated with decreased ASD symptoms in the ASD group.

Conclusions: These results support differences in emotional competence between children with and without ASD and shed light on a potential link between social-emotional development in children with ASD. Consistent with previous research, children with ASD demonstrate decreased ER skills, increased emotionality, and decreased expression of emotions in comparison to TD peers. Further, we generally found a strong relationship between social skills and ER, emotionality, and expression of emotions in the ASD group. Thus, treatment packages that target both ER and social skills could improve the utility of these interventions (Bauminger, 2002; Scarpa & Reyes, 2011; Prizant, Wetherby, Rubin, & Laurent, 2003; Sofronoff, Attwood, & Hinton, 2005; Sofronoff, Attwood, Hinton, & Levin, 2007). Given that these specific difficulties tend to be present across the lifespan, addressing them in early childhood could ultimately improve the quality of life for individuals with ASD.