Predicting Anxiety in Autism Spectrum Disorder: The Roles of Parenting and Emotion Regulation
Positive parenting is characterized as above average levels of warmth, affection, responsiveness, and involvement and is positively associated with healthy child adjustment and lower levels of internalizing behaviors in children, including those associated with anxiety. Because children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are at an increased risk of experiencing higher levels of anxiety than their typically developing peers, positive parenting might be particularly important for this population. Another potential predictor of high anxiety in children with ASD might be emotion regulation and emotional coping skills. Individuals with ASD have been shown to have differences in and difficulties with emotion regulation compared to their typically developing peers which might further explain some of the increased levels of anxiety.
In the present study, we sought to elucidate the relations between positive parenting, emotion regulation and coping skills, and anxiety-related child behavior in children with ASD. We hypothesized that both positive parenting behaviors and emotion regulation and coping skills would significantly predict anxiety-related behaviors in children with ASD. Specifically, higher levels of positive parenting and higher levels of emotion regulation and coping skills would both predict lower levels of anxiety-related behaviors.
Methods: Parent reports of anxiety-related child behavior and parenting behavior and child self-reports of emotion regulation and coping strategies were obtained from a sample of parent-child dyads in which the child has a diagnosis of ASD (N=23). We examined the ways in which positive parenting behaviors and the child’s emotion regulation and coping skills predict anxiety-related behavior in the child.
Results of a simple linear regression indicated that positive parenting behaviors (b(21)= -.799, p <.001) and the child’s emotion regulation and coping skills (b(21) =-.295, p <.05) both significantly predicted anxiety-related child behavior. The overall model (F(2,20) = 10.67, p = .001) accounted for 52% of the variance (R2=.516) in anxiety-related behaviors in children with ASD.
These findings further evidence the importance of providing positive parenting based interventions to parents of children with ASD and interventions focused on emotion regulation and coping skills to children with ASD in order to decrease the levels of anxiety experienced. It might also be that increased emotion regulation and coping skills are a mechanism through which positive parenting behaviors decrease child anxiety-related behaviors. Preliminary analyses indicate a trend towards mediation and further analyses will be conducted when expected sample size is reached to determine if the child’s emotion regulation and coping skills are acting as a mediating variable between positive parenting behaviors and the child’s anxiety-related behaviors.