RESEARCH SUPPORT, NON-U.S. GOV'T
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Emotion regulation in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder.

Emotion dysregulation is not a formal criterion for the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, parents and clinicians have long noted the importance of emotional problems in individuals with ASD (e.g. tantrums and "meltdowns"). In this study, 21 high-functioning children and adolescents with ASD and 22 age and gender group-matched typically developing (TD) controls completed a Reactivity and Regulation Situation Task. This task assesses emotional reactivity and spontaneous use of emotion regulation strategies (problem solving, cognitive reappraisal, avoidance, distraction, venting, suppression, and relaxation) in the context of age-appropriate ambiguous and potentially threatening negative scenarios. After the concept of cognitive reappraisal was explained, the scenarios were presented again to participants, and they were prompted to use this strategy. Results indicated that individuals with ASD exhibited the same level of reactivity to negative stimuli as TD participants. Furthermore, youth with ASD had a different emotion regulation profile than TD individuals, characterized by a less frequent use of cognitive reappraisal and more frequent use of suppression. When prompted to use cognitive reappraisal, participants with ASD were less able to implement reappraisal, but benefitted from this strategy when they were able to generate a reappraisal. Findings from this study suggest that cognitive reappraisal strategies may be useful to children and adolescents with ASD. Therefore, the development of treatment programs that focus on enhancing the use of adaptive forms of emotion regulation might decrease emotional problems and optimize long-term outcomes in youth with ASD.

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