Emotion Coregulation in Mother-Child Dyads: A Dynamic Systems Analysis of Children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder

Authors: Yuqing Guo & Dana Rose Garfin & Agnes Ly & Wendy A. Goldberg

Few studies have investigated patterns of emotion coregulation in families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or contrasted the ways in which their emotion coregulation patterns differ from families of typically developing (TD) children. To address this gap, we used a dynamic systems approach to compare flexible structure and emotional content of coregulation between mothers and children (3– 7 years) with ASD (n = 47) and TD children (n = 26).
Mother-child play interactions in the home were videotaped and emotion-engagement states were coded in micro-level 5-s intervals based on behavioral and affective expressions.
Analyses indicated that mother-child dyads in the ASD group spent more time than dyads in the TD group in mismatched emotion-engagement states (e.g., child negative/mother positive), and children with ASD spent more time than TD children engaged exclusively with objects. Mother-child dyads in the TD group stayed longer in mutual positive engagement states. Compared to dyads in the TD group, mother-child dyads in the ASD group exhibited greater flexibility (i.e., a wider range of emotional-engagement states, more frequent changes in states, and less time in each state). These findings suggest that mothers and their children with ASD do not sustain dyadic positive engagement patterns in a low-stress environment.
Findings confirmed the preference of children with ASD for objects over social partners, even when they are at home with their mothers, and elucidated a challenging mother-child interactional style. Results have implications for mother-child interventions aimed at regulating negative emotional states and sustaining positive ones in families raising children with ASD.

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