Observed emotional reactivity in response to frustration tasks in psychiatrically hospitalized youth with autism spectrum disorder

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MaineHealth Institute for Research

Journal Title

Autism : the international journal of research and practice

MeSH Headings

Adolescent; Adolescent, Institutionalized; Adult; Autism Spectrum Disorder; Child; Child, Institutionalized; Child, Preschool; Emotions; Ethnicity; Frustration; Humans; Inpatients; Male; Minority Groups


Large emotional reactions (e.g. outbursts, tantrums) can be common and distressing in the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder and their families. Most previous research that has examined these types of emotional responses have used questionnaire data or focused only on young children. In addition, very little research has included individuals across a large range of intellectual and functional abilities or individuals with more severe emotional and/or behavioral difficulties. This study examined emotional reactions to frustrating tasks in 6-21-year-olds with autism spectrum disorder who were psychiatrically hospitalized due to emotional and/or behavioral difficulties. We describe change in the amount, intensity, duration, and range of emotional reactions that the participants displayed from a neutral activity to the frustrating tasks and then to a neutral recovery period. We also examined associations between characteristics of the participants and these emotional reactions. We found that younger children displayed more negative emotions across the neutral and frustrating tasks; however, age did not relate to how big their reactions to frustration were. Furthermore, we found that individuals with fewer adaptive skills (i.e. age-appropriate life skills) and minimally verbal individuals had bigger reactions and recovered less following the frustration tasks. The results highlight the importance of examining emotional reactions in individuals with lower verbal and adaptive abilities and for interventions to consider the connection between verbal and adaptive skills and emotional reactions.

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