Difficulty regulating emotions has not always been defined as a significant feature of autism spectrum disorders, but there is growing evidence that emotional problems play a prominent role in this disorder. Hong Kong is no different as many children who are referred have difficulties with controlling their mood and emotions. This is also the case for children that have related disorders such as ADHD.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Child psychology and psychiatry a wide range of emotional regulation strategies were examined in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders and were compared to typically developing peers in 3 emotional domains (anger, anxiety, and amusement). Parent interviews and child daily diaries were used to examine emotional experience in the use and efficacy of 10 emotional regulation strategies. Children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders had significantly different emotional regulation profiles compared to typically developing children in all 3 emotional domains, characterized by less frequent use of adaptive methods (problem solving, cognitive reappraisal) and more frequent use of maladaptive strategies to control their emotions (repetitive behaviors).
This study adds to the already growing body of literature documenting that individuals with autism spectrum disorders (as well as ADHD) have maladaptive emotional regulation profiles. The above study is consistent with with my clinical experience working with both children that have autism spectrum disorders as well as ADHD in Hong Kong. In most cases when high functioning individuals on the autism spectrum (Asperger’s syndrome) are referred when they are adolescents or young adults, one of the common concerns is how to deal with high levels of anxiety that are having a negative effect on their functioning.
Hopefully the above research will offer some insight that will improve individual interventions that promote wider understanding and contribute to the evelopment of more adaptive strategies to help individuals with ASD manage their mood and emotions.