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Examining the Relationship Between Parental Substance Use, Child Problem Behaviors, and the Broad Autism Phenotype

Saturday, 4 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
J. L. Wade1, N. Broderick1, R. E. Reeve1 and M. F. Hull2, (1)Clinical and School Psychology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, (2)Education Leadership, Foundations, and Policy, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
Background: Parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), particularly those whose children exhibit severe externalizing behaviors, report higher levels of stress than not only parents of typically developing children, but also parents of children with other developmental delays. Stress makes everyone, including parents, more vulnerable to the adoption of maladaptive coping strategies, which can include substance use; parental substance use is particularly concerning given its potential impact on the parent-child interaction, as well as parents’ perceptions of their children. Despite the unique stressors faced by parents of children with ASDs, to the researchers’ knowledge, parental substance use among this population has not been studied. Based on the current literature, the researchers hypothesize that parents of children with ASDs may utilize substances as a coping mechanism; the parents of children who engage in severe externalizing behaviors may be at even greater risk. Furthermore, research indicates that parents with phenotypes associated with ASDs, also known as the Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP), are more likely to adopt maladaptive coping mechanisms, which may translate to increased substance use.

Objectives: The present study seeks to define the prevalence of substance use among parents of children with ASDs, as well as determine whether or not there is a relationship between parental substance use and the severity of their children’s problem behaviors as reported on the Externalizing subscale of the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). Furthermore, this study aims to determine whether or not or not parents engaging in substance use register on the Broad Autism Phenotype as measured by the subscales and overall average score on the Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire (BAPQ).  

Methods: Data for this study were obtained from the Simons Simple Collection (SSC). The following measures were used: Child Behavior Checklist, Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire, and the Parent Substance Use History Form (developed by the SSC). For the purposes of this study, only current substance use data were analyzed. Given that parental substance use is a dichotomous variable (as measured by the SSC), point-biserial correlations were run between parental substance use, the CBCL Externalizing subscale, and the subscales and overall average score of the BAPQ. Paternal and maternal substance use data were analyzed separately.

Results: With the exception of tobacco and alcohol use, a relatively small percentage of parents reported substance use; however, preliminary analyses yielded significant correlations between parental (paternal and maternal) substance use and BAPQ scores.  

Conclusions: These findings suggest that parents exhibiting BAP traits may be more likely to adopt maladaptive coping mechanisms, specifically substance use. Although effect sizes were relatively small, these results suggest important implications for future research. To enhance our understanding of the data, the researchers plan to conduct additional analyses by looking at the relationships between the BAPQ and the CBCL and composite scores of substance use (for both mothers and fathers), which will be included in the conference presentation.

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