Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 49, Issue 8, pp 3244–3256 | Cite as

Family Emotional Climate and Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Emily J. HickeyEmail author
  • Robert L. Nix
  • Sigan L. Hartley
Original Paper


Little research has examined family emotional climate in the context of having a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The goal of the current study was to determine how the emotional quality of family subsystems (parent–child and parent couple relationships, for both mothers and fathers) combine to create various classes of family emotional climate and to identify predictors of class membership in 148 families of children with ASD. The emotional quality of family subsystems was assessed using Five Minute Speech Samples from mothers and fathers. In total, 148 families of children with ASD (86% male) aged 6–13 years were included in analyses. About one-third of parents did not have a college degree and more than two-thirds were of non-Hispanic White origin. Latent class analysis revealed that 43% of the sample was characterized by high levels of warmth and low levels of criticism in both the parent–child and parent couple relationships; 12% of the sample was characterized by low warmth and high criticism in both sets of relationships; and the rest of the sample was divided among three additional classes of emotional climate characterized by different configurations of warmth and criticism across both sets of relationships. Parent level of broader autism phenotype and child emotional and behavioral problems were associated with emotional climate class membership. Implications for interventions are discussed.


Family Autism Expressed emotion Parent Parent–child Couple Marital Five minute speech sample Warmth Criticism 


Author Contributions

EJH conceived of the study discussed in this paper, participated in its design and coordination, conducted statistical analysis, interpreted the analysis, and drafted the manuscript. RLN participated and consulted in conducting statistical analysis, assisted with the interpretation of findings, and helped to draft the manuscript. SLH conceived of the larger ongoing study from which data were taken, helped to draft the manuscript, and assisted with the interpretation of findings. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This research was supported by a Grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (Hartley; R01 MH099190) and National Institute of Child Health and Development (Messing; U54 HD090256).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained by all participating families in this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily J. Hickey
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Robert L. Nix
    • 1
  • Sigan L. Hartley
    • 1
  1. 1.Human Development and Family Studies DepartmentUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  2. 2.General Academic Pediatrics, Boston University School of MedicineBoston Medical CenterBostonUSA

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