Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 27, Issue 8, pp 2422–2429 | Cite as

Predicting Potentially Harmful Psychological and Physical Behaviours by Parental Caregivers toward Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Brian LovellEmail author
Original Paper


Mistreatment of dementia patients by spousal care providers is fairly common. Caregivers’ characteristics, particularly their psychosocial, physical and cognitive functioning, and coping behaviours, predict reports of elder mistreatment. Parental caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) however, despite the similarities they share with dementia caregivers, have not been studied in this context. A sample of N = 95 caregivers of children with ASD completed an online survey assessing: (a) psychosocial, physical and cognitive functioning, and (b) coping behaviours. Caregivers also: (c) rated the extent to which they used potentially harmful psychological (e.g., screamed at the child) and physical (e.g., slapped the child) behaviours to cope with caregiving challenges over the last 12 months. Rates of potentially harmful psychological and physical behaviours were extremely low. However, 95% of caregivers reported using at least one potentially harmful psychological behaviour at some point in the last 12 months, and almost 38% reported using at least one potentially harmful physical behaviour. Mediation analysis yielded an indirect effect of psychological distress on potentially harmful psychological behaviours through disengaged coping. In conclusion, rates of potentially harmful behaviours appear to be low in the context of caring for a child with ASD. Caregivers reporting increased psychological distress were more likely to use potentially harmful psychological behaviours, and this effect was partially mediated by greater use of disengaged coping.


ASD Coping Parental caregiver, potentially harmful caregiving behaviours Psychological distress 


Author Contributions

B.L.: designed and executed the study, completed the data analyses, and wrote the paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. Northumbria University, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences Ethics Committee, approved this study.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyNorthumbria UniversityNewcastle upon TyneUK

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