Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, 36:1069

First online:

Autism Spectrum Symptomatology in Children: The Impact of Family and Peer Relationships

  • Adrian B. KellyAffiliated withSchool of Social Science, The University of QueenslandSchool of Social Science, The University of Queensland Email author 
  • , Michelle S. GarnettAffiliated withSchool of Psychology, The University of Queensland
  • , Tony AttwoodAffiliated withSchool of Psychology, The University of Queensland
  • , Candida PetersonAffiliated withSchool of Psychology, The University of Queensland

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This study examines the potential impact of family conflict and cohesion, and peer support/bullying on children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). While such impacts have been established for a range of non-ASD childhood disorders, these findings may not generalize to children with ASD because of unique problems in perspective-taking, understanding others’ emotion, cognitive rigidity, and social reasoning. A structural model-building approach was used to test the extent to which family and peer variables directly or indirectly affected ASD via child anxiety/depression. The sample (N = 322) consisted of parents of children with ASD referred to two specialist clinics. The sample contained parents of children with Autistic Disorder (n = 76), Asperger Disorder (n = 188), Pervasive Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (n = 21), and children with a non-ASD or no diagnosis (n = 37). Parents completed questionnaires on-line via a secure website. The key findings were that anxiety/depression and ASD symptomatology were significantly related, and family conflict was more predictive of ASD symptomatology than positive family/peer influences. The results point to the utility of expanding interventions to include conflict management for couples, even when conflict and family distress is low. Further research is needed on the potentially different meanings of family cohesion and conflict for children with ASD relative to children without ASD.


Autism spectrum disorder Asperger’s syndrome Autism Family Peers Conflict Support