The Role of Parental Attributions and Discipline in Predicting Child Problem Behavior in Preschoolers with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Sarah E. BerlinerEmail author
  • Lauren J. Moskowitz
  • Megan Braconnier
  • William F. Chaplin


Although previous research indicates that both parental attributions for child misbehavior and parenting discipline are associated with child problem behavior, there is a lack of research examining the relationship between these variables in parents of young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This study investigated the relations between parental attributions, parenting discipline, and child problem behavior in parents of preschoolers with ASD (n = 67) as compared to parents of neurotypically developing preschoolers (n = 57). Group differences in levels of parental attributions of child internality, child stability, and child controllability, as well as lax and overreactive discipline and level of parent-reported child problem behavior, were analyzed. Additionally, child ASD status, parental attributions of controllability, lax discipline, and child problem behavior were examined within a serial multiple mediator model. Results indicated that, compared to parents of neurotypical preschoolers, parents of preschoolers with ASD were more likely to use lax discipline and attribute their child’s problem behavior to factors that were uncontrollable by the child and stable over time. There were no significant group differences in attributions of child internality or overreactive discipline. The relation between child ASD status and level of child problem behavior was mediated through attributions of low child controllability and lax discipline, although controllability was the primary pathway to child problem behavior. The findings contribute to the limited literature on parental attributions, parenting discipline, and child problem behavior, and can inform future intervention for child problem behavior, particularly in the area of parent training.


Autism spectrum disorder Parenting Lax discipline Parental attributions Externalizing behavior problems Overreactive discipline Harsh discipline 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

The study has been approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at St. John's University. All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the St. John's University IRB and the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable federal ethical standards.

Informed Consent

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

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no potential conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kids of New York Applied Behavior AnalysisNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.St. John’s University, Department of PsychologyQueensUSA

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