Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Psychology


Clinical Psychology



First Advisor

Wayne Velicer


Stress in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is poorly understood, yet can be detrimental to the functioning of these individuals. Stress-related problems are more common in ASD than the typical population, and individuals with ASD often have poorer coping skills. It is crucial to understand stress responses in these individuals, to help them better learn, cope, and prevent problem behavior associated with stressful events and heightened arousal. However, traditional measures of stress (e.g. self-reports) are often unreliable in this population, due to communication deficits in ASD. Studying physiological responses is an alternative, potentially more accurate, way to study stress in ASD.

This idiographic study systematically examines heart rate (HR) responses to six stressors in 39 individuals with ASD. Patterns of response for each individual are discussed. Examples of four hypothesized physiological subtype responders were identified. These subtypes include: hyperarousal (characterized by high baseline HRs, with low variation in response to different stressors), hyporesponsive (characterized by low/normal baseline HR, with low variation in response to different stressors), reactive responsivity (characterized by HR that increases significantly throughout the assessment and fail to return to baseline level), and normal responsivity (characterized by normal baseline HR that varies during stressor phases, but returns to baseline level during subsequent baseline phases). Clinical and general implications of these findings are discussed, as well as directions for future research.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.