Predictors of Parent Scaffolding in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Friday, May 12, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
V. Chan (Ting) and J. A. Weiss, Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background: Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have externalizing (e.g., aggression) and internalizing (e.g., anxiety) emotional and behavioural problems (Ooi et al., 2011; Totsika et al., 2011). Parents can support children’s emotional development through scaffolding (i.e., motivational or emotional scaffolding), which in turn may help improve psychopathology (Hooven et al., 1995; Wilson et al., 2013). Although parent scaffolding may be an important aspect of parent involvement in their children’s mental health treatment, little is known about the predictors of parent scaffolding

Objectives: The purpose of this study was to investigate the predictors of parent scaffolding in children with ASD, 8 to 12 years of age. We examined both child factors (i.e., age, IQ, ASD severity, emotion regulation, psychopathology) and parent factors (i.e., emotion regulation, depression, anxiety) in relation to parent scaffolding.

Methods: Fifty-two children with ASD (89% male) and their parents (79% mothers) participated in a larger treatment trial to improve emotion regulation. Children were 8 to 12 years of age (M=9.63, SD=1.31), with average IQ (M=103.08, SD=13.57, Range=79-140). Parent scaffolding was measured using a behavioural coding scheme (Gulsrud et al., 2010), applied to parent behaviours during a standardized Emotion Discussion Task. We used a parent report measure (Emotion Regulation Checklist; Shields & Cicchetti, 1997), and two open-ended measures (Dylan is Being Teased and James and the Math Test; Attwood, 2004b) to assess child emotion regulation. Child psychopathology was measured using the Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule for DSM-IV (Silverman & Albano, 1996), and via parent report on the Behavior Assessment System for Children, Second Edition – Parent Rating Scales (Externalizing and Internalizing subscales; Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004). We measured parent emotion regulation using a self-report questionnaire (Cognitive Emotion Regulation Questionnaire – Short Version; Garnefski & Kraaij, 2006). Parent depression and anxiety was measured using the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scales-21 (Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995).

Results: The majority of parents had scaffolding ratings in the “acceptable” to “good” range (M=3.73, SD=.83). Pearson correlations were conducted to examine the parent and child correlates of parent scaffolding. Of the child factors, age (r=-.29, p=.04), emotion lability and negativity (r=-.31, p=.03), and externalizing problems (r=-.28, p=.05) were correlated with parent scaffolding. Of the parent factors, depression (r=-.38, p=.007) and anxiety (r=-.45, p=.001) were correlated. The overall model accounted for 39% of the variance in parent scaffolding, F(7,44)=3.36, p=.007, and parent anxiety emerged as the only significant independent predictor (t=-2.64, p=.01).

Conclusions: This is the first study to investigate the predictors of parent scaffolding in school-age children with ASD. Parent depression and anxiety are more highly associated with parent scaffolding than child factors, suggesting that parents with better mental health are more likely to provide higher quality support of their children’s emotional development. Clinicians may consider assessing the emotional needs of parents when involving parents in their children’s mental health treatment.