International Meeting for Autism Research: Social Responsiveness and Maternal Emotional Connectedness Predictors in Autism

Social Responsiveness and Maternal Emotional Connectedness Predictors in Autism

Thursday, May 20, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
1:00 PM
M. Wheatley , Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
D. E. Wille , Department of Psychology, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, IN
Background: Ninety percent of mothers of children with autism report that they wish their children demonstrated more affection toward them (Hoppes & Harris, 1990). Children with autism often demonstrate affection strictly through physical means while other children demonstrate affection through verbal professions of love, helping out around the house, seeking proximity to the mother, and expressing concern for and interest in the mother. Mothers of children with autism report that their child's disability interferes with their ability to form emotional connections (Hoppes & Harris, 1990).

Objectives: The purpose of the current study is to evaluate maternal reports of socio emotional investment to her child with autism in relation to her child's social responsiveness deficits. It is expected that mothers of more severely socially disordered children will report less socio-emotional investment to that child due to difficulty in forming synchronous relations with the child. Social responsiveness predictors of mothers' socio emotional investment will be evaluated to determine areas of intervention to foster better emotional relations between mothers and children with autism.

Methods: Twenty mothers (M = 37.41 years of age, SD = 6.32) who attended support groups for parents of children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) of 4 girls and 16 boys with ASD (M = 8.52 years of age, SD = 3.59) were surveyed.


General Information Questionnaire. Mothers completed a general information questionnaire which consisted of questions about family income, marital status, number of children in the family, child diagnosis, and other general information items. Parental Socio-Emotional Investment.

The Parental Socio-Emotional Investment Questionnaire (Bradley, Whiteside-Mansell, & Brisby, 1997) was used to evaluate maternal feelings of attachment to two of her children. Social Responsiveness Scale.

The Social Responsiveness Scale (Constantino, & Grube, 2005) was completed only for children with ASD in order to assess the degree to which the children were able to reciprocate in social situations.

Results: Linear Regressions were used to evaluate predictors of mothers' socio-emotional investment to her child with ASD. Overall Social Responsiveness totals as well as communication deficits and social cognition deficits predicted socio-emotional investment in children with ASD. Mothers reported greater socio-emotional investment in children with fewer deficits in overall social responsiveness, t(19) = -2.33, p < .05, in communication deficits t(20) = -3.01, p < .01, and in social cognition deficits t(20) = -2.82, p < .05.

Conclusions: Areas of deficit in social reciprocity that are the most highly related to maternal reports of socio-emotional investment in children with ASD are social cognitions and communication deficits. This suggests that impairments in understanding the context of social situations and more deficits in communication most highly affect mothers' ability to emotionally connect with her child with ASD. Possible ways to help improve emotional connection between mothers and their children with ASD include providing the child with early interventions that target understanding of social context and communication skills.

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