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The Relationship Between Parent-Child Dysfunction and Language Outcomes in Preschoolers with Autism

Thursday, 2 May 2013: 14:00-18:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
S. Druckman1, C. S. Ghilain2, A. Gutierrez3 and M. Alessandri4, (1)University of Miami, Miami, FL, (2)5665 Ponce De Leon Blvd., University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, (3)Psychology, Florida International University, Miami, FL, (4)Psychology and Pediatrics, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL
Background: The relationship between a parent and child is a critical variable in understanding child development. The interaction between a parent and child motivates that child to interact with their caregiver and explore their environment. It is through these positive, prosocial interactions that parents cultivate language skills and enhance overall cognitive functions (Cheung & Pomerantz 2012). It is therefore important to consider factors that can influence this relationship. One important factor affecting parent-child interactions is the mental health of the parent. Additionally, due to the core deficits in language development exhibited by children with ASD, language is an important component of learning that is strongly affected in this population. Therefore, it is necessary to analyze the relationship between parental mental health and childhood language outcomes, in order to create the most beneficial learning environment for the child.

Objectives: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the relationship between parent characteristics and child language development. Specifically, this study investigated parent-reported depression and parent-child dysfunction,  and their relationships with language functioning in preschool children with autism.


Methods: Participant data were acquired from a larger, multi-site treatment comparison study funded by the Institute of Educational Sciences (IES). Parents were asked to complete the Beck Depression Index (BDI-II) and the Parenting Stress Index – Short Form (PSI-4-SF) at the beginning (PRE) and end (POST) of the school year. Additionally, child language abilities were measured using the Preschool Language Scale, 4th edition (PLS-4) at the beginning and end of the school year.

Results: Regression analyses were conducted to evaluate the impact of parental depression and stress on their child’s language scores at both PRE and POST time points.  Parent-Child Dysfunction was significantly positively correlated with Parental Depression at both the PRE (r(192) = .39, p<.01) and POST(r(192) = .32, p<.01) time points.

Parent-Child dysfunction was also significantly negatively correlated with child language subscales of Auditory Comprehension, (pre - r(192) = -.24, p<.01, post – r(168) = -.26, p<.01) Expressive Communication, (pre - r(192) = -.26, p<.01, post – r(168) = -.28, p<.01) and Total Language  (pre - r(192) = -.29, p<.01, post – r(168) = -.27, p<.01).

However, parental depression was not significantly correlated with child language subscales of auditory comprehension (pre - r(193) = -.05, p<.01, post – r(167) = .03, p<.01), expressive communication (pre - r(193) = -.01, p<.01, post – r(167) = -.02, p<.01), and total language (pre - r(193) = -.03, p<.01, post – r(167) = .00, p<.01).

Conclusions:  Preliminary analyses indicate that while depression and stress are significantly related to one another, only Parent-Child Dysfunction is negatively associated with child language outcomes. Future studies should explore whether Parent-Child Dysfunction may be influencing the relationship between parental depression and child language outcomes. These results highlight the importance of further investigating the relationship between particular aspects of parent mental health and development in children with autism.

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