Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Jennifer B. Wagner

Committee Members

Sarah E. Berger

Kristen Gillespie-Lynch

Yu Gao

Dan McCloskey

Subject Categories

Developmental Psychology


Sensory reactivity, restricted and repetitive behaviors, autonomic activity, autism, broader autism phenotype


The current dissertation includes seven chapters. Chapter 1 includes my professional background and describes the experiences that led me to study restricted and repetitive behaviors. It also briefly describes my personal journey as an international graduate student. Chapter 2 is devoted to the rich literature that this dissertation is based on. The literature review covers both the foundational and most recent findings in the fields of sensory reactivity, restricted and repetitive behaviors, and autonomic activity, as well as the known relationships between these areas in autistic and non-autistic individuals. In Chapter 3, I describe in detail the methodology used in the current dissertation, including a description of the participants and the study design and analysis choices. Chapters 4 through 6 describe three experimental studies examining different aspects of the relationships between sensory reactivity, restricted and repetitive behaviors, and autonomic activity. Chapter 4 presents findings from a study conducted with both children and adults examining the pupil light reflex as it relates to levels of autistic traits in both age groups. Chapter 5 presents findings from a remote questionnaire study using caregiver-report measures that examines the relationships among sensory reactivity, restricted and repetitive behaviors, and adaptive behaviors in non-autistic children. Chapter 6 extends the questionnaire study of Chapter 5, presenting findings from an in-person study with a subset of children (limited due to restrictions related to COVID-19) that aimed to examine the role of autonomic activity in the relationship between sensory reactivity and restricted and repetitive behaviors in order to begin uncovering the potential mechanisms underlying this relationship. Finally, Chapter 7 is devoted to an overarching conclusion, potential implications, and a description of future plans for my own line of research, which include examining new questions in autistic populations and then extending these questions into the general, broader, population. The motivation behind the research presented in this dissertation is to better understand behaviors that are associated with and prevalent in autism and are also highly stigmatized. Research showing that autistic traits vary widely in the general population can speak to and contribute to the increasing awareness and acceptance of the autistic experience, which is just different, not less.