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Parenting Behaviour in Mothers of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Relations with Child's Age, Gender, and Behaviour Problems

Thursday, 2 May 2013: 12:15
Meeting Room 3 (Kursaal Centre)
J. P. W. Maljaars1,2, G. Lambrechts1,2, H. Boonen1,2, K. Van Leeuwen3 and I. Noens1,2, (1)Parenting and Special Education Research Unit, University of Leuven (KU Leuven), Leuven, Belgium, (2)Leuven Autism Research (LAuRes), University of Leuven (KU Leuven), Leuven, Belgium, (3)Parenting and Special Education Research Unit, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
Background: Parents of children with ASD are confronted with specific challenges in raising their children. These challenges are partly due to the specific behavioural characteristics of children with ASD. Moreover, children with ASD have a greater risk for developing behaviour problems compared to children without ASD (e.g., Kanne & Mazurek, 2011). Parenting behaviour can function as a risk factor but also as a protective factor in the development of problem behaviour (Patterson et al., 1992). Currently, there is only little research focusing on concrete parenting behaviour in families of children with ASD. 

Objectives: 1) to characterize parenting behaviour among mothers of children with ASD and to explore differences compared to mothers of children without ASD; 2) to study the relation between parenting behaviour and child’s age and gender in both groups; 3) to examine whether and how parenting behaviour is related to externalizing and internalizing behaviour problems of the children. 

Methods: In this study 552 families of a child with ASD are compared with a control group of 437 families with a child without ASD (age range: 6-18 years). The Parental Behaviour Scale-short version (PBS; Van Leeuwen & Vermulst, 2010) was used to measure general parenting behaviour (Positive Parenting, Discipline, Harsh Punishment, Material Rewarding, and Rules), in combination with additional subscales to measure specific parenting behaviour relevant to children with ASD (Stimulating the Development and Adapting the Environment; Lambrechts et al., 2011). The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire was administered to evaluate behaviour problems. The first four subscales were used, creating two composite scores for internalizing behaviour problems (emotional and peer items) and externalizing behaviour problems (conduct and hyperactivity items) (Goodman et al., 2010). 

Results: MANOVAs with diagnosis, gender, and age (primary vs. secondary education) as factors showed that mothers of children with ASD exhibit different parenting behaviour in several domains compared to the control group. Mothers of children with ASD utilize less Rules and Discipline (ps < .001), and show more Positive Parenting (p = .02). They also stimulate the development of their child and adapt the environment more often than the control group (ps < .001). Gender effects are found for Discipline and Stimulating the Development (ps < .01), whereas age effects are present in the domains Positive Parenting and Adapting the Environment (ps< .001). In general, only weak correlations were found between behaviour problems and parenting behaviour. Different parenting behaviour patterns are seen for externalizing versus internalizing behaviour problems. 

Conclusions: Results indicate that more specifically relevant parenting was seen in the group of mothers with a child with ASD, but also differences in general parenting behaviour were present. The correlation patterns between behaviour problems and parenting behaviour suggest the presence of coercive family processes for externalizing behaviour problems in both groups. Internalizing problems are related to autism specific parenting behaviour in the ASD group. Future studies using observational and longitudinal measures are needed to validate these findings. Overall, this study will provide suggestions to improve prevention and intervention of behaviour problems by enhancing parenting skills.

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