Contrary to the extensive amount of empirical findings about parental perceptions, parenting cognitions, and coping in families with a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), research about parenting itself is very scarce. However, parents of children with ASD face specific challenges in parenting and parenting behavior plays an important role in intervention.
A first goal of this study was to examine the factor structure and internal consistency of two scales to measure parenting behavior: the Parental Behavior Scale – short version (PBS, Van Leeuwen, 2002; Van Leeuwen & Vermulst, 2004; 2010) existing out of five subscales (Positive Parenting, Discipline, Harsh Punishment, Material Rewarding, and Rules) and a new scale to measure parenting behaviors more specifically relevant to children with ASD. A second goal was to compare general and more specific parenting behavior among parents of children with and without ASD.
The experimental group was recruited through the Flemish Association for Autism and consisted of 305 parents of a child with ASD between 8 and 18 years old. The control group was recruited through five primary and four secondary schools and consisted of 325 parents of a typically developing child between 8 and 18 years old. Parents filled in both questionnaires.
Exploratory factor analysis of the new scale resulted in two factors: Stimulating the Development and Adapting the Environment. Multisample confirmatory factor analyses showed good fit indices for the noninvariant model of both the PBS and the new scale. Mean level analyses revealed significant main effects of group with higher mean scores for the control group in comparison with the experimental group for the subscale Harsh Punishment and the reversed effect for the subscale Stimulating the Development.
The PBS-short version as well as the new scale showed a relatively stable five respectively two factor structure for the control group as well as for the experimental group. The two factors ‘Stimulating the child’s Development’ and ‘Adapting the child’s Environment’ were also convincing as regards content. They are related to the treatment goals of Rutter (1985) who made a distinction between goals aimed at adapting the environment and goals directed to the child, with fostering typical development as primary subordinate goal. A first indication was found that parents of children with ASD indeed use more specifically relevant parenting behaviors. It is self-evident that more research is needed to gain further insight in the nature of these behaviors.
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