Hostile Attributions of Intent and Comorbid Behavior Problems in Children with ASD

Friday, May 12, 2017: 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
R. M. Fenning1, J. M. Moffitt2, J. K. Baker1 and A. Partida2, (1)Child and Adolescent Studies, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, CA, (2)Center for Autism, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, CA
Background: The tendency to attribute hostile intent in social situations has been linked robustly to aggressive behavior and poor peer status in children with neurotypical development (e.g., Orobio de Castro et al., 2002). Related research on children with ASD has been limited and characterized predominantly by a focus on group differences. Of the studies that have addressed associations between attributional processes and social and behavioral functioning in this population, findings are decidedly mixed. Some studies have revealed expected relations between greater hostile attributions and poorer outcomes (Meyer et al., 2006) whereas others have not detected significant associations (Flood et al., 2011; Ziv et al., 2014).

Objectives: This pilot study sought to clarify and extend prior research by: 1) further examining the role of hostile attributions of intent in relation to parent-reported social problems and challenging behaviors in children with ASD, and 2) investigating processes in children with more diverse developmental profiles than have typically been included in prior research.

Methods: Participants included families of 21 children (71% male; 48% Caucasian/Non-Hispanic) with ASD between the ages of 5 and 11 years (M=8.43, SD=1.63). Mean child IQ fell within the low-average range, but significant variation was present (SB-5 ABIQ: M=85.19, SD=19.83, 43% IQ<76). Children’s attributions of hostile intent were coded from the Home Interview with Child (CPPRG, 1991). The total number of hostile attributions generated, number of hostile attributions produced for minor harm scenarios, and number of hostile attributions generated for unsuccessful peer entry situations were considered (K=.94). Children’s social problems and challenging behaviors were indexed by parent report on the Child Behavior Checklist (T-scores for Social Problems, Rule-Breaking Behavior, and Aggressive Behavior) and the Social Skills Improvement System Rating Scales (scores for Problem Behaviors, Externalizing Behavior, and Bullying).

Results: Child age, gender, IQ, and family income were not significantly related to hostile attributions. Given sample size considerations, emphasis was placed on statistical significance as well as effect sizes. Trends were observed for associations between total number of hostile attributions and parent-reported rule-breaking behavior, r=.45, p=.06, and aggression, r=.43, p=.05. Associations with social problems, r=.34, ns, and general problem behaviors, r=.30, ns, were in the same direction and moderate in strength, but non-significant. Hostile attributions generated for unsuccessful peer entry vignettes were more consistently associated with parent-reported outcomes than were attributions for minor harm scenarios. Hostile attributions for peer entry events were significantly positively associated with parent-reported social problems, r=.53, p<.05, rule-breaking behavior, r=.58, p<.01, and aggression, r=.53, p<.05. In contrast, hostile attributions in minor harm scenarios appeared more important for understanding parent-reported bullying behavior. Total number of hostile attributions of intent (B=.52, p<.05, OR=1.69) and hostile attributions for minor harm (B=1.05, p<.05, OR=2.85) were predictive of increased likelihood of elevated bullying behavior. The more general SSiS Externalizing Behavior score was not significantly associated with attributions.

Conclusions: Hostile attributions of intent may represent an important individual difference factor for children with ASD. Improved understanding of mechanisms underlying comorbid behavior problems may provide valuable insight into avenues for targeted intervention.