Dealing with Distress: Cognitive Correlates of Coping Strategies in Young Children with ASD

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 4, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
H. Tokadjian1,2, C. E. McCormick3 and S. J. Sheinkopf2,4, (1)Rhode Island Consortium for Autism Research and Treatment (RI-CART), Bradley Hospital, East Providence, RI, (2)Brown Center for the Study of Children at Risk, Women and Infants Hospital, Providence, RI, (3)Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, (4)Rhode Island Consortium for Autism Research and Treatment (RI-CART), East Providence, RI
Background: Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have difficulty establishing effective emotion regulation skills and consequently experience behavior problems (Sofronoff et al. 2007). Common coping strategies identified in literature on typical development are described as constructive/goal-oriented, venting, and passive/avoidance, and have shown both direct and indirect effects on positive and negative outcomes (Eisenberg et al., 1993; Blair et al., 2004). Although there is some evidence to support the relation between cognitive ability and the regulation of emotions (Mazefsky et al., 2013), research is limited in addressing how specific elements of cognitive functioning impact coping behaviors.

Objectives: The aim of this study was to compare types of coping strategies used in a heterogeneous sample of children with ASD, and explore the way in which varying levels of IQ may influence their use of coping strategies.

Methods: Participants were 83 children, 48 with ASD and 35 typically developing controls (age range 2–7; M= 4.23 years, SD= 1.15, 77% male). IQ was assessed using the Stanford Binet-5. The ASD participants were split into two subgroups based on expressive language: low verbal (up to basic phrase speech; N =33) and high verbal (verbally fluent; N = 15). Participants were presented with a series of tasks that were designed to be frustrating (e.g. toy with a broken part). Coping strategies during these tasks were coded as: instrumental, avoidance, aggression, disruption, venting, social-monitoring, and support-seeking (Eisenberg et al., 1993; Marcelo & Yates, 2014).

Results: The strategies were summed to create three composite variables of positive strategies (instrumental, social-monitoring, and support-seeking), negative strategies (aggression, disruption, and venting), and avoidant strategies (avoidance; Jahromi et al., 2012; Zantinge et al., 2017). There was a significant difference in coping strategies based on group (F(6, 156)=10.24, p< .001). The ASD low verbal group used less positive strategies compared to the ASD high verbal and typically developing groups (p< .001). The ASD low verbal group used more negative strategies compared to the typically developing group (p=.047). In addition to the group differences, moderation analyses within the ASD group revealed a significant two-way interaction between non-verbal IQ and high versus low verbal ability (β=-.432, p=.043). Higher non-verbal IQ scores predicted greater use of positive coping strategies for the low verbal ASD group (simple slope= -0.02, p=.008). There were no significant interactions between verbal or full scale IQ and verbal ability predicting positive, negative or avoidant coping strategies.

Conclusions: Children with ASD and low verbal ability displayed fewer positive coping strategies during frustrating events compared to their peers. However, within this group higher non-verbal ability was associated with more positive coping strategies. Thus, non-verbal cognitive functioning may have a protective effect, supporting the expression of constructive coping strategies. This suggest that individuals who appear to be significantly impaired can demonstrate effective coping when undergoing challenging situations. These findings are important for continuing to explore the mechanism by which stressful experiences influence behavior and what factors may or may not lead to more positive outcomes in children with ASD.

See more of: Emotion
See more of: Emotion