Category: Child / Adolescent - Anxiety


Clinical Anxiety in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder Using Cluster Analysis of Big Five Personality Traits

Friday, November 17
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
Location: Sapphire Ballroom B, Level 4, Sapphire Level

Keywords: Autism Spectrum Disorders | Anxiety
Presentation Type: Symposium

Children with ASD are relatively anxiety-prone, but in what individual difference context does this anxiety arise? Hypotheses about the origin of this anxiety reflect either (1) a general emotion regulation difficulty that accounts for some ASD symptoms as well as anxiety (and similar symptoms); (2) a result of social rejection; or (3) an ambiguous phenotypic expression of core ASD symptoms (e.g., rigidity, social indifference) rather than actual anxiety, among other reasons. In this study, a cluster analytic approach was used to examine the basis for anxiety in children with ASD from an individual differences perspective. A sample of 196 children with diagnoses of ASD aged 7 to 13 years participated in a three-site study of CBT for anxiety in ASD (PIs: Wood, Storch, and Kendall). Parents completed a comprehensive questionnaire of Big Five personality traits in their children, the Hierarchical Personality Inventory for Children (HiPIC). K-means cluster analysis was used to examine the pattern of scores to identify common profiles. The largest single cluster (with 44% of the children represented) entailed children who had much higher anxiety than the population mean (M = 92nd %ile) in the context of low extraversion, low agreeableness, low openness to experience, and low conscientiousness. A second, smaller group (13% of the sample), also had high anxiety but differed from the larger group in having normative levels of openness to experience and above-average levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness. The other two groups were marked by normative trait anxiety scores. There were no significant group differences on demographic characteristics or the ADOS and CARS total autism severity scores, but consistent large difference on clinical features on the CBCL, MASC, and SRS. Overall, high trait anxiety appeared to occur either in the presence of dysregulation and low social motivation, or, primarily in the context of executive dysfunction but relatively intact social motivation. Perhaps children in the larger cluster experience anxiety and other negative affect due to their general self-regulatory difficulties, whereas the children in the smaller high-anxiety cluster might experience anxiety particularly related to social situations to which they are more attuned. On the other hand, although all children exhibited anxiety-like symptoms that were sufficient to enter an anxiety trial for children with ASD, about 43% of them exhibited symptom profiles where trait anxiety was not a central clinical feature and instead either social withdrawal or externalizing behavior were the most prominent concerns. These results support conceptualizations of clinical anxiety in ASD as highly multifaceted in expression, and likely, in origin.


Jeffrey J. Wood



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Clinical Anxiety in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder Using Cluster Analysis of Big Five Personality Traits

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