Caregiver psychological distress predicts temperament and social-emotional outcomes in infants with autism traits

Published July 2021
Abstract
Child temperament and caregiver psychological distress have been independently associated with social-emotional difficulties among individuals with autism. However, the interrelationship among these risk factors has rarely been investigated. We explored the reciprocal interplay between child temperament (surgency, negative affectivity, and self-regulation) and caregiver psychological distress in the development of child internalizing and externalizing symptoms, in a cohort of 103 infants showing early autism traits. Caregivers completed questionnaires when children were aged around 12-months (Time 1 [T1]), 18-months (Time 2 [T2]), and 24-months (Time 3 [T3]). Cross-lagged path models revealed a significant pathway from T1 caregiver psychological distress through lower T2 child self-regulation to subsequently greater T3 child internalizing symptoms. No such caregiver-driven pathway was evident through T2 child negative affectivity or in the prediction of T3 child externalizing symptoms. Further, no support was found for temperament-driven pathways through caregiver psychological distress to child social-emotional difficulties. Child surgency was mostly unrelated to caregiver psychological distress and social-emotional difficulties. These findings implicate the need to support the mental health of caregivers with an infant with autism traits in order to enhance the emotion regulation and social-emotional development of their infants.
Citation
Chetcuti, L., Uljarević, M., Varcin,K., Boutrus, M., Pillar, S., Dimov, S., Barbaro, J., Dissanayake, C., Green, J., Wan, M.W., Segal, L., Slonims, V., Whitehouse, A.J.O. & Hudry, K. (2021). Caregiver psychological distress predicts temperament and social-emotional outcomes in infants with autism traits. Research on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology, early online. doi: 10.1007/s10802-021-00838-5

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