Explicit and implicit self-esteem in youth with autism spectrum disorders

Autism. 2021 Feb;25(2):349-360. doi: 10.1177/1362361320961006. Epub 2020 Oct 15.


Having a stable and good self-esteem is important for maintaining a good mental health. However, having low self-esteem is a risk factor for developing depressive, anxious, or uncooperative/aggressive symptoms. While many individuals with an autism spectrum disorder have these symptoms, there is a lack of studies on self-esteem in this group. We studied self-esteem of youth with autism spectrum disorder and the connection to their co-occurring symptoms. To do this, different self-esteem profiles were investigated, including explicit self-esteem (how someone says their self-esteem is after reflecting on it), implicit self-esteem (how someone's self-esteem is on a task that does not give them time to reflect on it), and the difference between both (high explicit with low implicit self-esteem or low explicit with high implicit self-esteem). Our results show that youth with autism spectrum disorder report lower self-esteem than youth without autism spectrum disorder when they have reflected on it (explicit self-esteem). And parents of children with autism spectrum disorder report that their children have even lower self-esteem. Implicit self-esteem was the same for youth with and without autism spectrum disorder. Furthermore, we found that within youth with autism spectrum disorder, there was a negative relationship between explicit self-esteem and depressive symptoms, and between implicit self-esteem and externalizing behavior. Taken together, youth with autism spectrum disorder are at risk for developing low self-esteem and when they do they have a higher risk of developing co-occurring problems. Therefore we stress that it is important to measure and improve the self-esteem of youth with autism spectrum disorder, so they develop less co-occurring problems and have a higher quality of life.

Keywords: adolescents; autism spectrum disorders; children; explicit self-esteem; implicit association task; implicit self-esteem.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder*
  • Child
  • Depression
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life
  • Self Concept