Recent research has discovered that young individuals with autism face increased daily stress and are more likely to use ineffective emotional regulation strategies compared to their non-autistic counterparts. This study, published in the journal Autism, offers a deeper understanding of the emotional challenges experienced by those with autism.
Previous studies have consistently shown elevated stress levels among individuals with autism and an increased likelihood of encountering adverse experiences such as bullying compared to non-autistic individuals. These heightened stress levels contribute to various mental health issues, including anxiety and mood disorders. Understanding these challenges, researchers sought to explore how autistic adolescents and young adults respond to daily stressors, particularly focusing on their emotional reactions and coping strategies.
Study author Laura Ilen, a PhD student in clinical psychology at the University of Geneva, stated, “Autistic individuals are shown to have increased likelihood of developing mental health difficulties during the lifespan, so possible risk and protective factors are important to identify.”
The study utilized a meticulous methodology to gather data, involving a total of 94 participants, including 39 autistic individuals aged 12 to 29 and 55 non-autistic individuals aged 12 to 26. To measure stress and emotional responses, the study employed a technique called Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA), which provided real-time data on the participants’ emotional states in their natural environments.
The results revealed that autistic participants reported higher levels of negative emotions, such as sadness and anxiety, in their day-to-day lives. They also experienced significantly higher levels of stress related to social interactions and daily activities. Autistic individuals exhibited more reactive stress to daily activities, suggesting that routine tasks may be more emotionally taxing for them. Additionally, the study showed that autistic individuals found social events less pleasant than non-social events, indicating a heightened sensitivity to social stressors.
The study also explored cognitive emotion regulation strategies, finding that autistic participants used less adaptive strategies and more non-adaptive strategies. Ilen emphasized the importance of reducing stressors in the daily lives of autistic individuals and the need for clinical interventions to focus on stress management skills and strategies to prevent stress-related negative emotions and mental health symptoms.
However, it is important to approach these findings with some considerations in mind. One limitation of the study is its reliance on subjective self-reports. Furthermore, the study’s cross-sectional design means that it can highlight correlations but cannot conclusively prove cause-and-effect relationships.
Despite its limitations, the study offers valuable insights and paves the way for future longitudinal studies to determine whether increased stress reactivity can predict later mental health difficulties in autistic youth and adults.