International Meeting for Autism Research: Parental Intrusiveness and Separation Anxiety In Children with High-Functioning Autism

Parental Intrusiveness and Separation Anxiety In Children with High-Functioning Autism

Thursday, May 12, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
11:00 AM
I. A. Rystad, C. Fujii and J. J. Wood, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Children with high-functioning autism are at heightened risk of developing anxiety disorders compared to typically developing (TD) children (de Bruin et al. 2007). Several studies have examined the relationship between low adaptive skills and anxiety (e.g., Sukhodolsky et al., 2008), while parenting styles have often been overlooked in the literature. However, there has been some indication that heightened anxiety may be the result of an intrusive parenting style associated with low adaptive skills. Wood (2006) found that parents whom were intrusive limited their child’s mastery experiences, which predicted the presence of child separation anxiety disorder (SAD) for TD children.

Objectives: The current study examined whether parental intrusiveness was correlated with SAD for high-functioning children with autism, and if so, whether parental intrusiveness could predict SAD above and beyond the child’s age and adaptive functioning.

Methods: Participants included 77 children (56 males), primarily white, between the ages of 7 and 13, drawn from a larger intervention study for children with high-functioning autism and at least one co-morbid anxiety disorder. SAD was assessed using the SAD subscale of parent- and child-reported scores from the Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children (MASC; March, 1998), a standardized 39-item self-report measure of anxiety. Adaptive behavior was measured using the daily living skills subscale from the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale (VABS; Sparrow, Balla, & Cicchetti, 1984), a semi-structured interview administered to parents. Finally, parental intrusiveness was determined using child- and parent-reported total scores on the Parent-Child Interaction Questionnaire (PCIQ; Wood, 2002), a questionnaire containing 35 items rating parent-child interactions in day-to-day life. Regression analysis was used to determine whether parental intrusiveness predicted SAD above and beyond age and adaptive functioning.

Results: Preliminary analyses revealed that parent- and child-reports of anxiety were statistically significantly correlated (r=.50, p<.01), as were parent- and child-reportsof parental intrusiveness (r=.64, p<.01). Hence, composite anxiety and parental intrusiveness scores were created. Further analyses indicated that parental intrusiveness was statistically significantly associated with child SAD (r=.53, p<.01). Additionally, parental intrusiveness accounted for a significant unique variance in SAD above and beyond that accounted for by child’s age and adaptive behaviors (ΔR²=.12, p<.01).

Conclusions: Given the fact that anxiety is a prevalent problem for children with high-functioning autism, finding predictors of this problem is highly relevant. These factors can then be targeted during interventions for this population. Our results confirmed previous results that SAD is associated with parental intrusiveness, and that this can partly explain the relationship between low adaptive functioning and anxiety. Further, our study added on previous findings by investigating this unique relationship for children with high functioning autism. Because our results indicated that parental intrusiveness predicted SAD for this population, it will be beneficial for treatment of SAD in children with high functioning autism to include components targeting parental intrusiveness. Hence, interventions that do not solely focus on the child’s deficits, but also focus on changing parents’ behaviors with their children may yield greater benefits than interventions excluding this component.

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