By Lizaan Schwartz, Provisional Psychologist
Behavioural and emotional difficulties, including anxiety, depression, aggression, oppositional, and attention difficulties are highly prevalent in children on the autism spectrum (Kanne et al., 2009; Ung et al., 2013). These difficulties affect children’s quality of life and daily functioning, and vary across home and school settings.
These variations can be problematic for clinicians and therapists who often use the multi-informant reports from teachers and parents to assess children’s emotional and behavioural problems.
A recent meta-analysis indicated that the parents and teachers of children on the autism spectrum had a better agreement on externalising problems of children than internalising problems. This study suggested that overt problematic behaviours are apparent across various settings (Stratis & Lecavalier, 2014). Given this, Ung, Boone, McBride, Howie and Scalli (2017) aimed to address the current gap in literature regarding the discrepancies in parent and teachers’ agreements in relation to behavioural problems of children on the autism spectrum.
In their article, Ung et al. (2017) tried to examine if their findings were consistent or inconsistent with previous research studies. The authors put forward that parents of children on the autism spectrum between the ages of 2-5 years old who participated in the study reported significant problems with their emotion regulation and somatic problems. Children’s teachers reported significant withdrawn and depressive behaviours, and attention difficulties.
However, parents of children on the autism spectrum aged between 6-10 years old parents reported significantly greater problems with somatic complaints, thought problems, social difficulties, externalized behaviour problems and rule-breaking behaviours.
Conversely, their teachers reported significant attention difficulties. The authors’ findings were consistent with previous studies, that parents tend to report more problematic behaviour than teachers. Where agreement occurred, it appeared to be between teachers and parents of children with overt behaviour problems (e.g. aggression).
It appears vital then, that clinicians and therapists who assess and provide therapy to children on the autism spectrum need thorough information about the behaviour and emotional problems from multiple informants. Multi-informant reports will provide not only a reliable and comprehensive understanding, but also guide how problematic behaviour can be treated across various environmental settings.
Kanne, S. M., Abbacchi, A. M., & Constantino, J. N. (2009). Multi- informant ratings of psychiatric symptom severity in children with autism spectrum disorders: The importance of environmental context. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 856–864.
Stratis, E. A., & Lecavalier, L. (2014). Informant Agreement for Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Intellectual Disability: A Meta-analysis. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 1–16.
Ung, D., Wood, J. J., Ehrenreich-May, J., Arnold, E. B., Fujii, C., Renno, P., & Storch, E. A. (2013). Clinical characteristics of high-functioning youth with autism spectrum disorder and anxiety. Neuropsychiatry, 3, 147–157.
Ung, D., Boone, D.M., McBride, N., Howie, F., & Scalli, L. (2017). Parent and teacher agreement of behaviour problems in youth diagnosed with and without Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Children and Family Studies, 26, 370-380. doi: 10.1007/s10826-016-0566-7