A Family Affair: Linking the Role of Parental Confidence, Siblings, and Emotion Regulation in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Saturday, May 19, 2012
Sheraton Hall (Sheraton Centre Toronto)
10:00 AM
N. M. Reyes1 and A. Scarpa2, (1)Psychology, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, (2)Department of Psychology, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
Background: Parental self-efficacy appears to play a role in parental competence and child adjustment in typically developing children (Jones, & Prinz, 2005) and children with autism (Hastings, & Brown). Relationships between children with autism and their siblings have been described as less intimate, prosocial, and nurturing (Kaminsky, & Dewey, 2001). Collectively, previous research suggests that parents’ and siblings’ interactions with a target child might play a role in his/her adjustment. However, no research has investigated the association among parental confidence, presence of siblings, and emotion regulation in children with autism.

Objectives: This study investigated the whether parental confidence might be linked to (1) children’s emotional regulation or (2) the presence of siblings at home.

Methods: Participants consisted of 12 children with ASD (2 females, 10 males) with a mean age of 5.58 (SD=.73, range: 4.50-7.00). In order to participate in this study, children were required to have an ASD diagnosis or meet ASD criteria on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). They were attending kindergarten or first grade, were verbal, and able to understand and follow verbal instructions. 

Parents reported on how confident they felt in being able to manage their child’s anger/anxiety, how confident they felt in their child’s ability to manage anger/anxiety, and the number of siblings in the home. Parents also completed both subscales, Emotion Regulation and Negativity/Lability, of the Emotion Regulation Checklist (ERC; Shields & Cicchetti, 1998). Finally, Social and communication deficits were examined using the Communication and Social domains of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS; Lord et al., 2000, Lord, et al., 1999).

Results: Parental confidence in their child’s ability to deal with anger was significantly negatively correlated with the number of siblings in the home, r(10)=-.502, p=.05). Also, trends were observed for a negative correlation between number of siblings and parental self-confidence to deal with their child’s anger, r(10)=-.41, p<.10), and parental confidence in their child’s ability to deal with anxiety, r(10) = -.393, p=.10). Finally, a trend emerged for a negative correlation between number of siblings in the home and children’s Emotion Regulation scores on the ERC, r(10)=-.420, p<.10). No other significant correlations or trends were observed.

Conclusions: These findings suggest family dynamics may play a role in parental perception of emotion regulation abilities in their child with ASD. Specifically, larger families appear to be associated with decreased confidence in managing the child’s anger/anxiety. However, siblings of children with autism tend to show admiration of their siblings and engage in less conflict and competition than their typically developing peers (Kaminsky, & Dewey, 2001). One possible explanation is that even if the total number of interactions is fewer, they might be more emotional intense when they do occur. These interactions might leave parents with a sense of poor self-efficacy in knowing how to help their child to deal with the emotions elicited by negative interactions. Future research should examine the quality and type of interactions between children with ASD and their siblings and whether they are more likely to experience intense negative emotions.

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