Children with autism spectrum disorder exhibit significant difficulties with emotion regulation. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia is a biomarker for processes related to emotion regulation, with higher baseline rates linked to beneficial outcomes. Although reduction in respiratory sinus arrhythmia in response to challenge can index adaptive processes in community samples, excessive withdrawal may suggest loss of regulatory control among children with clinical concerns. Psychophysiological risk for problems may be protected against or exacerbated by parenting environments more or less supportive of the development of children’s regulatory competence. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia was examined in 61 children with autism spectrum disorder ages 6-10 years in relation to externalizing behavior, and parenting was considered as a moderator. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia was obtained during laboratory tasks, and positive parenting, negative parenting, and children’s externalizing behaviors were each indexed through multiple methods. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia reactivity interacted with negative, but not positive parenting. Higher respiratory sinus arrhythmia reactivity was associated with more externalizing behavior under conditions of higher negative parenting, but with lower externalizing behavior at lower levels of negative parenting. Similarly, negative parenting was only associated with externalizing behaviors in the context of high child respiratory sinus arrhythmia reactivity. Implications for our understanding of emotion regulation in children with autism spectrum disorder, and for related interventions, are discussed.
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Baker JK, Fenning RM, Erath SA, Baucom BR, Messinger DS, Moffitt J, Kaeppler A, Bailey A. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia, parenting, and externalizing behavior in children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism. 2020 Jan;24(1):109-120. doi: 10.1177/1362361319848525. Epub 2019 May 23. PMID: 31122030; PMCID: PMC7155915.