The Relationship Between Child Behaviors and Parent Feedback during a Problem-Solving Task

Thursday, May 15, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
M. M. Pruitt, L. Keylon and N. Ekas, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX
Background:  Parent-child interactions are important because they can have implications for the development of numerous skills, including social skills (Baker, Fenning, Cmic, Baker, & Blacher, 2007).  It can be a stressful experience to parent a child with autism. Previous research suggests that increased symptom severity negatively impacts parent-child interactions (Beurkens, Hobson, & Hobson, 2013).  One way parents interact with their child is through the feedback (e.g., praise) they provide. Feedback is a crucial element for a child’s development, and it has been shown that one particular type of feedback, person-related praise (praise about stable attributes of a child), is related to negative feelings if failure later occurs (Brummelman, Thomaes, Overbeek, Orobio de Castro, van den Hout, & Bushman, 2013).  However, there are few studies of naturalistic praise in parent-child interactions with children with autism.  Because previous studies have linked child behavior problems, parental stress, and parenting behavior (Hastings, 2002), it is important to examine how both symptom severity and behavior problems affect different dimensions of parenting.

Objectives:  The current study utilized feedback as an example of one parenting behavior that may be impacted by children’s symptom severity and behavior problems. Similar to studies examining other aspects of parenting behavior, we hypothesized that behavior problems would exhibit a stronger association with person-related praise

Methods:  Seventeen participants from ages 3-6 with a diagnosis of autism completed a moderately difficult puzzle task with their parent’s help.  Observers coded feedback following a specific action on the puzzle as positive (i.e. praise), negative, or encouraging.  This feedback was then classified as person-related, task-related, or ambiguous. Parents also completed the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) as a measure of symptom severity and the Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC) as a measure of behavior problems.

Results: The results revealed a significant positive relationship between social cognition as measured by the SRS and person-related praise, r = .49, p < .05, In addition, there were significant positive relationships between person-related praise and child anxiety, r = .78, p < .001, and child depression, r = .75, p ≤ .001, as measured by the BASC.

Conclusions:  These results show that autism symptom severity, behavior problems, and parent-child interactions are related, confirming previous findings and extending them to another dimension of parent behaviors.  The current data was collected at a single time point, which does not allow us to make directional conclusions. If person-related praise is predicted by child behaviors, our findings suggest that parent behaviors may be negatively impacted due to raising a child with autism. On the other hand, if person-related praise predicts anxiety and depression, it provides support for the contention that this type of feedback can have negative consequences for children with autism as well as typically developing children. We currently have two additional time points of data collected and intend to analyze longitudinal associations to determine the directionality of these effects.

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