Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Van Hecke, Amy V.

Second Advisor

Herrington, John D.

Third Advisor

Gordon, Nakia S.


Autistic adolescents frequently experience clinical levels of anxiety which exacerbate social difficulties. Those that receive a well-validated social skills intervention, the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®), have shown improvements in both social behavior and anxiety. Prior literature has demonstrated neural changes in response to this intervention using EEG, and recent literature highlights the importance of using neural markers to assess for intervention response in autism. No study to date, however, has examined changes in neural activity via fMRI and links with social behavior and anxiety across the PEERS® intervention for autistic adolescents. Thus, the present study employed a randomized clinical trial to examine these effects. As expected, results from the primary ANOVA analyses showed no effects of intervention on amygdala activity when anxiety was not considered. Unexpectedly, no effect was observed when anxiety was held constant. When anxiety was examined as a predictor of change in amygdala activity, however, results showed that parent reported fear of negative evaluation predicted change in amygdala activity across the intervention. These findings point to the importance of considering anxiety in the examination of amygdala activity in autism, including as a biomarker of intervention response.

Included in

Psychology Commons