Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology


Behavioral Science



First Advisor

Kathleen Gorman


Emotional self-regulation (ESR) challenges are well documented in the developmental profiles of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); however, less is known about the development of ESR and the role of parents in ESR development for this population. This study explored the associations between diagnostically significant characteristics of children with ASD (i.e., social communication profile and sensory processing abilities) and parent behaviors associated with development of a child’s ESR.

Participants were 37 children previously diagnosed with ASD and their parents recruited throughout Southern New England. The children’s ages ranged between 30-48 months. The study was a cross sectional design involving observations of parentchild dyads in their home environment during naturalistic routines: free play, social communication assessment, and snack. Observations were video recorded for subsequent coding using combined event/ time sampling procedures. Parent behaviors included physical engaging and helping, language-based engaging and helping, redirection/distraction, vocal comfort, physical comfort, language-based comfort, emotional following, and active ignoring. Children’s social communication abilities were assessed using the Communication Symbolic Behavior Scales- Developmental Profile (Wetherby & Prizant, 2002) and their sensory processing abilities were assessed using the Sensory Processing Measure – Preschool Home form (Ecker & Parham, 2010). A demographic questionnaire was also completed by the parent.

Results indicate that parents engaged in all of the behaviors hypothesized to be associated with ESR development during the observations but to varying degrees. Parents most frequently used physical engaging and helping, and language engaging and helping behaviors, while behaviors associated with comfort were infrequent and active ignoring was rare. Children’s social communicative abilities were associated with parent engagement such that children with high levels of social communication had parents who used more parent language engaging and helping and less physical engaging and helping, redirection/distraction, and physical comfort. Overall, no parent behaviors were associated with child sensory processing abilities. These findings were fairly consistent across activities studied in the research protocol although some variations were noted.

Future research should explore additional aspects of the interactions by examining the transactions between child emotional state and parent behavior response. Delineation of specific parent behaviors could also serve to further the understanding of the particular qualities of parent behaviors that are most supportive of child ESR development. Understanding the interactive processes between parents and children with ASD has implications for the development of targeted parent-based interventions that increase child ESR capabilities and in turn decrease the secondary burdens and long term difficulties posed by ESR challenges for this population.



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