Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with amplified emotional responses and poor emotional control, but little is known about the underlying mechanisms. This article provides a conceptual and methodologic framework for understanding compromised emotion regulation (ER) in ASD.
After defining ER and related constructs, methods to study ER were reviewed with special consideration on how to apply these approaches to ASD. Against the backdrop of cognitive characteristics in ASD and existing ER theories, available research was examined to identify likely contributors to emotional dysregulation in ASD.
Little is currently known about ER in youth with ASD. Some mechanisms that contribute to poor ER in ASD may be shared with other clinical populations (e.g., physiologic arousal, degree of negative and positive affect, alterations in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex), whereas other mechanisms may be more unique to ASD (e.g., differences in information processing/perception, cognitive factors [e.g., rigidity], less goal-directed behavior and more disorganized emotion in ASD).
Although assignment of concomitant psychiatric diagnoses is warranted in some cases, poor ER may be inherent in ASD and may provide a more parsimonious conceptualization for the many associated socioemotional and behavioral problems in this population. Further study of ER in youth with ASD may identify meaningful subgroups of patients and lead to more effective individualized treatments.