Date of Award

Spring 5-4-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)

Department

Clinical Psychology

First Advisor/Committee Member

Beverly J. Wilson

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Amy Mezulis

Third Advisor/Committee Member

Karen Toth

Abstract

Children with ASD exhibit significantly higher rates of internalizing symptoms than typically developing (TD) peers and co-occurring anxiety and depression are associated with greater negative outcomes. The current study explored possible neurocognitive correlates underlying increased risk by examining relations between developmental status, executive functioning (EF), and internalizing symptoms in young children. Participants included 66 children between 36 and 85 months with 40 TD children (57.5% male) and 26 children with ASD (84.6% male). EF measures included the BRIEF (Goia, Isquith, Guy, & Kenworthy, 2000) Plan and Shift subscales and a neuropsychological task (TOH-R; Welsh, Pennington, & Groisser, 1991). Parents and teachers reported on children’s internalizing symptoms on the BASC-2 (Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004). Parents completed a demographic questionnaire which included assessment of maternal history of depression. Analyses utilized Hayes and Preacher’s (2013) PROCESS macro to test a multiple mediation model in which developmental status is associated with internalizing symptoms through EF. Bootstrapping results supported the model (R2 = .48, F(5, 60) = 11.30, p < 0.001) which accounted for 48% of the variance in parent report of internalizing symptoms. Significant indirect effects were found for Shift (point estimate = 14.31, SE = 4.19, 95% CIs [7.85, 24.74] and Plan (point estimate = 6.50, SE = 2.24, 95% CIs [2.43, 11.18]). A significant indirect effect was found for Plan (point estimate = 6.01, SE = 2.47, 95% CIs [1.61, 11.57]) with teacher reported internalizing symptoms as the outcome. Post hoc analyses explored relations between maternal history of depression given significant correlations with EF variables. A significant indirect effect was found for Shift (point estimate = 5.31, SE = 2.68, 95% CIs [1.42, 12.57]) on the relation between maternal history of depression and parent reported internalizing symptoms that was equivalent in both ASD and TD groups. An sigificant indirect effect was found for Plan (point estimate = 2.95, SE = 1.52, 95% CIs [.79, 7.14]) in the relation between maternal history of depression and teacher reported internalizing symptoms. Results suggest targeting EF skills may be important for addressing internalizing symptoms in young children with ASD.

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