Parental reactions to a diagnosis of autism: How resolution relates to engagement in the parent-child dyad

Eileen M Feliciano, Pace University


This research project has endeavored to understand how parents come to a resolve a diagnosis of chronic illness or disability in their child, and how resolution is related to a parent's engagement in play with their child, how the parent perceives the child's social deficits, and how the parent has resolved earlier relationship experiences. Forty parents from a private, DIR-based school participated in the current study, which utilized the Reaction to Diagnosis Inteview (RDI), Adult Attachment Interview (AAI), Functional Emotional Assessment Scale (FEAS) and Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS). The FEAS, AAI, and RDI all demonstrated good inter-rater reliability. Results indicated that sixty percent of the current parent population were Resolved with respect to their child's diagnosis, with predominant Thinking and Action oriented strategies to resolution. For those parents who were Unresolved, Angry Preoccupation was the predominant theme. Parental resolution of the diagnosis was positively related to children's demonstration of higher levels of two-way, purposeful communication when engagement in the parent-child dyad was assessed using the FEAS. Reciprocally, children's demonstration of the lower levels of two-way, purposeful communication corresponded to a lack of resolution among parents, with the lowest levels of child initiated communication occurring with parents who demonstrated angry and emotionally overwhelmed reactions to diagnosis. The FEAS indicated that the majority of parent-child dyads were in the Deficient range of functioning. There were significant differences between teacher and parent reports on the SRS, where teachers were significantly more conservative in assessing the child's social deficits when compared to the parents. When compared to Unresolved parents. Resolved parents demonstrated SRS scores that were significantly discrepant from teacher reports, indicating a perception on the part of Resolved parents of more impaired social behavior in their child. Finally, those parents who were Resolved on the RDI were significantly more likely to articulate a Patterned/Organized experience of early relationships on the AAI. The importance of earmarking Unresolved parents and approaches for school and family-based intervention were discussed.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Developmental psychology|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Feliciano, Eileen M, "Parental reactions to a diagnosis of autism: How resolution relates to engagement in the parent-child dyad" (2008). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3328114.



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