Date of Award

2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)

Department

Clinical Psychology

First Advisor/Committee Member

Beverly Wilson

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Amy Mezulis

Third Advisor/Committee Member

Raphael Bernier

Abstract

The current study assessed whether deficits in adaptive functioning skills mediated the association between diagnostic status and internalizing symptoms in young children with and without an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis. Participants included 70 children, 26 with ASD and 44 who were typically developing (TD), between the ages of 3:0 and 6:11 years. Parent reports of children’s adaptive functioning skills were collected for the following constructs: functional communication, social skills, self-help skills, and independence. Additionally, parent and teacher reports of children’s internalizing symptoms were obtained. Results indicated that diagnostic status significantly predicted parent reported internalizing symptoms such that the ASD group evidenced higher internalization compared to the TD control group (B = 7.55, t = 2.28, p = 0.03). Further, diagnostic status also significantly predicted adaptive functioning skills such that children with ASD evidenced lower scores across all adaptive functioning metrics. Next, none of the adaptive functioning scales significantly predicted parent report of children’s internalizing symptoms, however social skills and independence neared significance (p = 0.07 and 0.06 respectively). In terms of the mediational relations among these variables, the association between diagnostic status and internalizing symptoms was partially accounted for by children’s social skills (CI: 0.64 – 13.85) and independence (CI: 1.32 – 18.11). The other two metrics of adaptive functioning skills did not produce a significant indirect effect. Children with ASD evidenced high rates of parent reported internalizing symptoms as well as lower levels of adaptive functioning skills. Further, results indicated that lower social skills and independence significantly mediated the relation between diagnostic status and internalizing symptoms. These results highlight the need for additional research assessing the associated impairment of adaptive functioning deficits in children with ASD. Additionally, this study underscores the importance of effective social skill and independence interventions for children on the spectrum. Such interventions may serve to attenuate the risk of subsequent internalizing symptoms in youth with ASD.

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