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Exploring the cognitive, emotional and sensory correlates of social anxiety in autistic and neurotypical adolescents

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1317-1327
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Volume61
Issue number12
Early online date1 Mar 2020
DOIs
Accepted/In press18 Dec 2019
E-pub ahead of print1 Mar 2020
PublishedDec 2020

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Abstract

Background: Social anxiety is common in autistic adolescents. While emerging evidence indicates the importance of several mechanisms (including intolerance of uncertainty (IU), alexithymia and sensory processing) for maintaining anxiety, limited research has explored how these factors are associated with social anxiety in autistic adolescents. Methods: We investigated whether IU, emotional and sensory processing are related to social anxiety in autistic and neurotypical adolescents, gathering experimental and questionnaire data from 61 autistic and 62 neurotypical 11- to 17-year-olds recruited to have similarly high levels of anxiety. Results: In autistic and neurotypical adolescents matched for social anxiety, similar significant associations were observed between social anxiety and IU, alexithymia, maladaptive emotion regulation, sensory hypersensitivity and interoceptive sensibility. Taking a dimensional approach, we found that child- and parent-reported IU, alexithymia and sensory hypersensitivity mediated the relationship between autistic traits and social anxiety symptoms in the combined group of adolescents. Conclusions: Our findings indicate that similar correlates of social anxiety are evident in autistic and neurotypical youths experiencing social anxiety and further our understanding of mechanisms that may contribute towards social anxiety in both groups.

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