The Impact of Restricted and Repetitive Behaviours on Social Emotional Learning and Executive Functioning in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 3, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
C. Rimmer1, H. Dahary1 and E. M. Quintin2, (1)McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada, (2)Educational & Counselling Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is defined as a broad category with two symptom dimensions: social communication deficits and restricted/repetitive behaviours (RRBs) (APA, 2013) RRBs may be presented as stereotyped motor movements, adherence to non-functional rituals, or circumscribed interests (Richler et al., 2010), and can be the most disabling feature of the disorder (Bishop et al., 2007). Further, RRBs compete with social interactions and impact communication (LaGasse & Hardy, 2013). Moreover, research has found that RRBs could be a result of abnormal frontal lobe functioning (Pierce & Courchesne, 2001), a brain region involved in executive functioning. Results of studies examining RRBs in relation to executive functioning find that RRBs are associated with deficits in cognitive flexibility and planning (Lopez et al, 2005).

Objectives: The purpose of this study is to examine the relationships between RRBs and the social emotional learning and executive functioning profiles of youth with ASD, using measures commonly used in research with this population.

Methods: A total of 45 youth with ASD between 12 and 18 years old participated in this study. Social communication was measured using the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS-2; Constantino, 2012), social emotional learning using the Social Skills Improvement System – Social Emotional Learning Edition (SSIS-SEL; Gresham & Elliot, 2017), executive functioning using the Behaviour Rating Inventory of Executive Functions (BRIEF-2, Gioia et al., 2015) and cognitive abilities using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-V; Wechsler, 2014). Participants were grouped into low RRB and high RRB severity groups using a median split of the SRS-2 restricted interests and repetitive behaviour subscale (RRB = 65).

Results: Low RRB and high RRB severity groups were compared on the SRS-2, SSIS-SEL, BRIEF-2, and WISC-V. MANOVAs revealed a significant difference (p < .05) on four subscales of the SRS-2 (social awareness, social cognition, social communication, and social motivation) and on four subscales of the SSIS-SEL (self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making) demonstrating that youths with higher severity of RRBs have greater difficulties in these areas. Further, results revealed a significant difference (p<.05) on six subscales of the BRIEF-2 (inhibition, self-monitoring, shift, emotional control, initiate, and working memory) indicating that participants with higher severity in RRBs have more difficulty with these components of executive functioning. High and low RRB severity groups did not differ in their scores on the WISC-V (p > .05), demonstrating similar cognitive abilities.

Conclusions: Results contribute to the literature in identifying specific social emotional learning and executive processes related to RRBs. Additionally, our results support previous ASD research showing a relationship between executive functions and RRBs, specifically, to inhibitory control (Mosconi et al, 2009; South et al, 2007) and working memory (Lopez et al, 2005). Findings also highlight the negative impact that RRBs have on the social and executive profiles of adolescents with ASD and support interventions targeting these behaviours, as studies show that participation in peer-initiation interventions (Lee et al, 2007) and multi-component social skills interventions (Loftin et al., 2008) lead to decreases in RRBs and increases in social engagement.