Date of Award

Spring 6-22-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor/Committee Member

Beverly J. Wilson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Lynette Bikos, Ph.D.

Third Advisor/Committee Member

Anna Villavencencio, Ph.D.


Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit externalizing behaviors at a higher rate when compared to their typically developing (TD) counterparts (Bauminger, Solomon, & Rogers, 2010; Gray, Keating, Taffe, & Brereton, 2012). Numerous longitudinal and cross-sectional studies assert that attachment is one of the most salient predictors of childhood externalizing behaviors (e.g., Green and Goldwyn, 2002). Despite this, little research has examined the relation between attachment and externalizing behaviors in children with ASD. This study investigated the extent to which high levels of attachment buffer the symptoms of externalizing behaviors in children with ASD, potentially informing future interventions. In addition, this study examined the relation between attachment and child externalizing behaviors. Participants included 10 TD children and 7 children with ASD (52.9% male; 47.1% female) between the ages of 3 years and 6 years 11 months (Mean age =61.53 months, SD = 16.28 months). Parent self-reports were used to evaluate the level of parent-child attachment and child externalizing behaviors. Parents of children with ASD had significantly greater reported overall child externalizing behaviors (p = .027). No significant differences were observed in parent reported attachment levels and attachment was not significantly associated with externalizing behavior. Attachment did not significantly moderate the relation between diagnostic status and externalizing behaviors. Given the small sample size and low statistical power of this study, these results may under-estimate the relation between attachment and externalizing behavior in children with ASD. While the results of this study did not support attachment as a protective factor for parents of children with ASD, attachment x diagnostic status did account for 17% of additional variation in externalizing behavior. Plotting of regression slopes depicted a visible inverse trend between attachment and externalizing behavior among parents with ASD children but not TD children. These findings suggest the relation between parent-child attachment and externalizing behaviors is more evident among ASD participants. Therefore, children with high levels of externalizing behaviors, particularly those with ASD, could benefit from interventions aimed at strengthening attachment within the parent-child dyad.