Gender Differences in Emotion Dysregulation in an Autism Inpatient Psychiatric Sample

Autism Res. 2020 Aug;13(8):1343-1348. doi: 10.1002/aur.2295. Epub 2020 Mar 28.


There is a wide range of emotion regulation (ER)-related impairment observed in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is associated with both internalizing and externalizing problems. Although the importance of ER is widely acknowledged in the ASD literature, little is known about factors associated with variability in ER impairment. Given the identified gender differences in ASD, gender may be a potential contributor to ER. This study examined gender differences in ER in an ASD inpatient psychiatric sample (n = 722; 146 females) aged 4-20 years, collected as part of the Autism Inpatient Collection. In addition, the study investigated whether age, nonverbal intelligence quotient (NVIQ), or verbal ability moderate the association between ER and gender. While both male and female inpatients with ASD presented with clinically elevated emotion dysregulation compared to general population norms, results suggest that female psychiatric inpatients have more severe dysregulation, including higher reactivity and dysphoria, than inpatient males. NVIQ and verbal ability did not moderate the association between gender and ER. Age moderated the association between gender and ER, with greater gender difference seen in older individuals, but only for dysphoria. However, overall, these effects were small. Improved understanding of ER presentation in males and females with ASD is critical, as these symptoms may differentially impact individuals with ASD and may warrant a different treatment emphasis. LAY SUMMARY: Previous research has identified several gender differences in presentation of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms, as well as difficulties with emotion regulation in individuals with ASD. In order to better understand the factors that may contribute to emotion regulation in ASD, this study examined whether psychiatrically hospitalized males and females with ASD differed in emotion regulation and what factors influenced the differences. Results suggest that females with ASD have slightly but significantly more difficulty with emotion regulation compared to males. Autism Res 2020, 13: 1343-1348. © 2020 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: Autism Inpatient Collection; autism spectrum disorder; emotion regulation; gender differences; psychiatric inpatients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Affective Symptoms / diagnosis*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inpatients
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sex Factors
  • Young Adult