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Interactions between mothers and young children with ASD: Associations with maternal and child characteristics


The accumulation of research evidence suggests meaningful differences in the quality of parent-child interactions in the realm of autism, with a considerable number of children developing secure attachments to their mothers. As is the case for typical children, it is widely believed that secure and supportive relationships help children with autism to maximize their potential. An important research goal is to understand parental and child characteristics that contribute to secure attachments, and the long-term implications of such attachments. In this project, Dr. Oppenheim's fellow will study associations between parent-child interactions and attachment and the social and emotional development of young children with autism. The new study will be based on an earlier one that made associations between mother-child interactions and the attachments formed but used only global ratings. Dr. Oppenheim's fellow will advance the research by conducting a more detailed, in-depth analysis of which maternal and child behaviors contribute to more optimal interactions. For example, prior research points to the importance of maternal synchronous and non-demanding behaviors in positive interactions; therefore, this study now will carefully code these behaviors. The study will then examine the contribution of child attachment to the level of children's symbolic play, a significant challenge for most children with ASD. Finally, a follow-up study evaluating the same sample of children in middle school will determine how significantly preschool parent-child bonds relate to children's later development. What this means for people with autism: The knowledge of specific behaviors that promote close bonds with their autistic children can help parents create the type of supportive relationship that helps autistic children to better flourish.