Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia and Restricted Repetitive Behaviors in Autism Spectrum Disorder
Condy, Emma Elizabeth
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In addition to social communication deficits, restricted repetitive behaviors (RRBs) are a key diagnostic feature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Two theories regarding the etiology of RRBs in ASD have been proposed: the hyper-arousal theory, and the hypo-arousal theory. Both of these theories posit the autonomic nervous system (ANS) as being dysfunctional in ASD, resulting in the occurrence of RRBs. Many studies investigating ANS activity in ASD have focused solely on its relation to social functioning. The few that have addressed RRBs have had inconclusive findings. Not only do the current theories and studies simplify ANS activity to a measure of baseline arousal levels through vague measures such as heart rate (HR) and skin conductance response (SCR), but the literature has also framed the theories as mutually exclusive. This study used respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) patterns in children with and without an ASD diagnosis as an indicator of ANS functioning to analyze its relationship to the manifestation of RRBs. Baseline RSA and RSA reactivity were found to predict RRB severity and exploratory analyses revealed that these measures were associated with specific subgroups of RRBs. These results are discussed in regards to the current behavioral literature on RRBs and the benefits of finding biomarkers for these behaviors.
- Masters Theses