Date of Award

Spring 2024

Degree Type



Communication Sciences and Disorders

Director of Thesis

Abigail Hogan, Ph.D.

Second Reader

Jane Roberts, Ph.D.


Social anxiety is a prevalent anxiety disorder marked by fear and discomfort in social situations where scrutiny or evaluation by others is anticipated. This thesis investigates the interplay between social anxiety and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by social and communication challenges. Individuals with ASD often face heightened levels of anxiety, intensifying their social difficulties and impeding their social development. Early identification of social anxiety symptoms, particularly in ASD children, is crucial for timely intervention and improved outcomes. However, diagnosing social anxiety in preschool-aged children, especially those with ASD, presents challenges due to the complexity of symptoms and developmental factors. This thesis aims to address these challenges through a longitudinal study examining behavioral and physiological indicators of social fear in ASD and typically developing (TD) children. The Modified Anxiety Dimensional Observation Schedule (M-Anx-DOS) was utilized to assess behavioral responses, while heart activity data provided physiological insights. Results revealed distinct developmental trajectories in behavioral and physiological indicators between ASD and TD groups. ASD children exhibited elevated and stable levels of social fear behaviors, contrasting with decreasing levels in TD children across the preschool period. Physiological measures, particularly RSA reactivity, further elucidated differences, suggesting an impaired autonomic nervous system function in ASD children. Significant correlations were found between behavioral and physiological indicators, highlighting the potential of physiological markers in predicting social fear behaviors. These findings underscore the importance of early intervention and provide insights for future work aimed at improving the social and emotional well-being of children with ASD.

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© 2024, Gillian Marshall