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Perceived Autonomy Support in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Thursday, 2 May 2013: 14:00-18:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
N. M. Shea1, J. J. Diehl2, K. Tang3, M. Van Ness3, S. L. Mazur3 and M. Millea4, (1)Psychology, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, (2)Center for Children and Families, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN, (3)University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, (4)Nielsen NeuroFocus, Cincinnati, OH
Background: Autonomy support is critical in child development; it has been linked to both greater school and friendship outcomes.  Little research has been conducted on the benefits of autonomy support for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Traditional therapies for children with ASD focus on using controls and rewards which are at odds with autonomy support.   

Objectives: This study had two specific aims: (1) to examine whether greater teacher autonomy support would lead to greater scholastic competence, and to see if this relationship was mediated by self-determination in school in adolescents with ASD, and (2) to examine whether greater parent autonomy support would lead to greater social competence, and to see if this relationship was mediated by self-determination in friendship in adolescents with ASD.

Methods: Participants were 26 adolescents with ASD between the ages of 9-15 years with an average IQ score of 107.73, ranging from 78 to 142.  Diagnoses were confirmed using the ADOS, SCQ-Lifetime, and clinical judgment.  Participants completed six self-report measures regarding parent and teacher autonomy support, self-determination in school and friendships, and social and academic competence.  The Learning Climate Questionnaire (LCQ; Williams & Deci, 1996) was used to assess the adolescent’s perceptions of their teacher’s autonomy support.  The Academic Self-Regulation Questionnaire (SRQ-A; Ryan & Connel, 1989) was used to assess self-determination in school.  The Perceptions of Parents Scale, The Child Scale (POPS; Grolnick et al., 1991) was used to assess adolescent’s perceptions of the degree to which their parent were autonomy supportive.  The Friendship Self-Regulation Questionnaire (SRQ-F) was used to assess the degree to which the adolescent felt self-determined and autonomous with respect to friendship.  Two subscales from the Self-Perceptions Profile for Children (SPPC; Harter, 1985) were used: the scholastic competence (SPPC-SC) and social acceptance (SPPC-SA).  The SPCC-SC measured scholastic competence and the SPPC-SA measured social acceptance.

Results: Self-determination in school functioned as a mediator between teacher autonomy support and scholastic competence.  Using a 95% confidence interval with 1000 resamples of the data, it was found that the bias corrected and accelerated confidence interval obtained from testing the indirect pathways did not include zero, CI [.01, .12], indicating that the indirect pathway from teacher autonomy support to scholastic competence via self determination was significant.  Self-determination in friendship did not function as a mediator between parent autonomy support and social acceptance.  Contrary to our predictions, the indirect pathways for maternal autonomy support (CI [-.40, .16]) and for paternal autonomy support CI [-.31, .33],  were not significant.   However, self-determination in friendship (SRQ-F) was strongly correlated with reports of social acceptance (SPPC-SA), r = .55, p < .01.   

Conclusions: The findings from this study provided initial evidence that autonomy support is beneficial for adolescents with ASD; greater teacher autonomy support lead to greater scholastic competence in adolescents with ASD.  Future research should explore ways to make existing treatments for children with ASD more autonomy supportive or explore the development of new therapies that emphasize autonomy support and the development of self-determination.

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