Challenges with emotion regulation are associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Previous research suggests a link between emotion regulation and parenting in children with ASD. The current study examined group differences between children with and without ASD in emotion regulation, as well as parent behaviour associated with child emotion regulation and social-emotional functioning. Twenty-one children with ASD and 20 typically developing (TD) children were asked to complete two interactive tasks with a parent: 1) a frustrating building task (Lego) and 2) a discussion task requiring dyads to generate emotion regulation strategies for the characters in two separate vignettes—one about anger and one about anxiety. Parent and child behaviour were both coded during these tasks. Parents completed questionnaires about their child’s social-emotional functioning and children completed a brief cognitive assessment. In the building task, no mean group differences in parent emotion regulation related behaviour were found; however, TD children displayed more positive emotion than children with ASD. Despite no mean group differences, persisting with the problem and cognitive reappraisal of the frustrating building task by parents was helpful in reducing child negative emotion for children with ASD, but not TD children. During the discussion task, specifically during the vignettes about anger, parents of children with ASD were less likely to elaborate about emotions when their child was rated as having more challenges with anger control and social competence, and more likely to elaborate when they rated their child to have fewer challenges with anger control and social competence. During the discussion of the anxiety vignette, more parent scaffolding was associated with better social competence for TD children, but not children with ASD. The results suggest that parents play a role in helping children develop emotion regulation skills; however, the type of parenting behaviour that is helpful differs depending on the emotion and whether the child has ASD.
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Thesis advisor: Iarocci, Grace
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