Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 895–906 | Cite as

Sympathetic Under-Arousal and Externalizing Behavior Problems in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Jason K. Baker
  • Rachel M. Fenning
  • Stephen A. Erath
  • Brian R. Baucom
  • Jacquelyn Moffitt
  • Mariann A. Howland
Article

Abstract

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) commonly exhibit co-occurring externalizing behavior problems, which can impede learning opportunities and contribute significantly to caregiver stress. Substantial theory and research has linked under-arousal of the sympathetic nervous system to increased externalizing problems in children without ASD, but under-arousal has not been considered as an explanatory mechanism for individual differences among children with ASD. We tested the notion that lower electrodermal activity (EDA) would predict more externalizing problems in children with ASD, and considered the degree to which parent co-regulatory support could buffer this risk. Forty children with ASD between the ages of 4 and 11 years and their primary caregivers participated in a laboratory visit that included various play, compliance, and problem-solving regulatory tasks. EDA was measured through wireless wrist sensors, parental scaffolding was observed during a dyadic problem-solving task, and parents rated their children’s externalizing behavior problems. As predicted, low EDA during the compliance-oriented tasks directly predicted higher child externalizing problems. Parental scaffolding moderated the link between under-arousal during the problem-solving regulatory tasks and externalizing problems such that the relation was observed in the context of low, but not high, support. Implications for relevant theories (e.g., fearlessness theory, stimulation-seeking theory) are discussed, and the potential for psychophysiological patterns to inform intervention with these children is considered.

Keywords

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) Electrodermal activity Externalizing behavior problems Parental scaffolding Psychophysiology 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This project was funded by an intramural faculty grant awarded to the first author and by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R15HD087877), awarded to the first two authors. Mariann Howland is now at the University of California, Irvine.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jason K. Baker
    • 1
  • Rachel M. Fenning
    • 1
  • Stephen A. Erath
    • 2
  • Brian R. Baucom
    • 3
  • Jacquelyn Moffitt
    • 1
  • Mariann A. Howland
    • 1
  1. 1.California State UniversityFullertonUSA
  2. 2.Auburn UniversityAuburnUSA
  3. 3.University of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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