The role of cognitive control and emotion regulation in predicting mental health problems in children with neurodevelopmental disorders Academic Article uri icon

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  • BACKGROUND: Many youth with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) experience mental health problems such as anxiety, depression or anger, and these are often associated with impairments of cognition and emotion regulation. The mechanisms that may be linking cognitive difficulties, emotion regulation and mental health are not known. AIMS: The current study examined whether adaptive and maladaptive (dysregulated) emotion regulation mediated the link between different cognitive control processes (working memory, inhibition and shifting) and internalizing/externalizing symptoms in children with NDDs. METHODS: Participants included 48 children (8-13 years of age) with one or more diagnoses of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cerebral palsy and learning disability, who were enrolled in a larger study of cognitive behaviour therapy targeting emotion regulation. Multiple mediation analyses were implemented using the PROCESS macro. The mediation effects of adaptive and maladaptive emotion regulation were examined on the relationships between (1) working memory and internalizing/externalizing symptoms, (2) inhibition and internalizing/externalizing symptoms and (3) shifting and internalizing/externalizing symptoms. All data were collected prior to intervention, at baseline. RESULTS: Shifting, inhibitory control and working memory predicted increased emotion dysregulation, which functioned as a full mediator to both internalizing and externalizing problems in children with NDDs. CONCLUSIONS: In the presence of emotionally triggering situations, children with greater cognitive challenges experience greater maladaptive emotion regulation, which results in both internalizing and externalizing problems. For youth with NDDs, therapeutic plans that include strengthening of working memory, inhibition and shifting abilities in addition to emotion regulation skills training may be helpful in alleviating externalizing and internalizing behaviour.


  • Tajik-Parvinchi, Diana
  • Tajik‐Parvinchi, Diana
  • Farmus, Linda
  • Tablon Modica, Paula
  • Cribbie, Robert A
  • Weiss, Jonathan A

publication date

  • September 2021