Parental Attributions of Behavior in Toddlers with ASD-Related Concerns
Parental attributions of their children’s behaviors have important implications for parent-child interactions and expectations. For typically developing (TD) children, parents generally attribute good behaviors as internal, stable, and controllable, while misbehaviors are perceived as external, temporary, and uncontrollable (Morrissey-Kane & Prinz, 1999). Conversely, parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) perceive misbehavior as more internal and controllable than good behavior (Wittingham et al., 2008). However, little is known about the behavioral attributions of parents who have ASD-related concerns about their toddlers. This study compares parental attributions about their toddler’s behavior across three groups: parents with developmental concerns, ASD concerns, or no concerns about their toddler.
Do parents in the three groups differ in: (1) behavioral examples they provide when describing their toddler’s good behavior and misbehavior; and (2) their attributions for their toddler’s good behavior and misbehavior?
The sample comprises 101 parents/toddlers recruited from primary care practices and early intervention programs through a longitudinal community-based study. The groups comprise parents with either self-reported ASD-related concerns, other developmental concerns (e.g., language; motor), or no concerns about their toddler (Table 1). Data collection is ongoing.
Parent’s descriptions and attributions of their toddler’s behavior were collected via the Parental Attributions Questionnaire, which asks parents to describe two scenarios: one in which their child exhibited good behavior and another in which they exhibited misbehavior. In addition, parents rated (on a 5-point Likert scale) the degree to which they view these behaviors as internal, stable, and controllable. Two examiners independently coded parents’ scenario descriptions for content related to social behavior and compliant behavior (see Table 2 for examples of behaviors coded for each scenario type). Interobserver agreement was excellent (Cohen’s ϰ=.814).
A 3 (group) x 2 (scenario; good behavior or misbehavior) x 2 (behavior type; social or compliant) repeated-measures ANOVA indicated that: (1) across groups, parents provided more examples of behaviors for the misbehavior scenario than the good scenario, p=.014; and (2) regardless of scenario type, the ASD concerns group provided fewer social behavior examples than the developmental concerns group, p=.019.
A 3 (group) x 2 (scenario) repeated-measures ANOVA was conducted for each attributional domain. For the internal domain, good behaviors were rated as more internally driven than misbehaviors, p=.001. For the stability domain, (1) good behaviors were rated as more stable than misbehaviors, p<.001; and (2) the ASD concerns group rated misbehaviors as more stable than the developmental concerns group, p=.008. For the control domain, the ASD concerns group rated behaviors as less under their child’s control than the developmental concerns group, p=.015.
Relative to the developmental concerns group, parents of children with ASD-related concerns reported fewer social examples for both the good behavior and misbehavior scenarios. This likely reflects their toddler’s limited socially-directed behavioral repertoire. Additionally, the parents with ASD concerns perceived their toddlers’ good behavior and misbehavior as less under their child’s control, and their misbehavior as a more stable characteristic. These findings have potential implications for parents’ adoption of and adherence to intervention.