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Emotion regulation in autism spectrum disorder: Where we are and where we need to go

Ru Ying Cai, Amanda L Richdale, Mirko Uljarević, Cheryl Dissanayake, Andrea C Samson
Autism Research: Official Journal of the International Society for Autism Research 2018, 11 (7): 962-978
29979494

Emotion dysregulation is a common issue experienced by individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and has been associated with a wide range of negative mental and physical health outcomes. This commentary highlights the role emotion dysregulation plays in ASD by first considering the literature on emotion regulation (ER) in the general population and then summarizing the ER research in ASD. Based on the evaluation of previous research findings, we conclude that individuals with ASD have more ER difficulties and consistently self-report or demonstrate a less adaptive pattern of ER strategy use. In addition, the higher prevalence of internalizing and externalizing issues seen in ASD are associated with the greater habitual use of some ER strategies and less habitual use of others. Conceptual and methodological limitations are discussed, including the use of coping measures and single-method approaches, and ASD gender distribution. We propose a set of new directions for investigating ER in ASD, incorporating knowledge from other literatures on the role of flexibility in healthy adaptation, overlaps between flexibility and executive function deficits, the adaptive value of up-regulation of positive emotions, and the importance of emotional self-awareness. Increasing our capacity for identifying the mechanisms underlying co-morbid affective disorders can ultimately inform the design of effective interventions to maximize the wellbeing of individuals with ASD. Autism Res 2018, 11: 962-978. © 2018 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

LAY SUMMARY: Research has shown that people diagnosed with autism tend to have difficulties with regulating their own emotions. This commentary article summarizes the main information from emotion regulation research conducted both in autism and in other populations. We make suggestions on how we can improve emotion regulation research in autism, with the ultimate goal being to use the learning gained from research to design effective interventions that can improve the wellbeing of people with autism.

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