Communication Disorders Ph.D. Dissertations

Child-Related Factors That Influence Responsiveness In Mothers Of Preschool-Age Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Mixed-Methods Study

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Disorders

First Advisor

Lynne Hewitt (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Gregory Garske (Others)

Third Advisor

Virginia Dubasik (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Emily Rusnak (Committee Member)


There is substantial research evidence to support the positive effects of maternal responsiveness on the language, social, communicative, and cognitive development of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Further, research has focused on the effects of children with ASD on maternal / caregiver mental health and family well-being. Very few investigations have explored the effects of children with autism on maternal responsiveness, an important component of mother-child interactions. This study was a preliminary attempt to understand the factors related to children with autism that influence maternal responsiveness. The study adopted a mixed-methods design. Mother-child interactions were recorded in a free play context to code for maternal responsiveness, and three child-related variables, namely children's intentional communication, joint engagement, and temperament. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to obtain mothers' perspectives regarding the impact of a child with autism on their daily dyadic interactions. Converging results from the quantitative and qualitative phases revealed a possible association between the proportion of time children spent in coordinated joint engagement and maternal responsiveness. Mothers reported children's limited communication ability, restricted topics and activities of interest, the need for topic control, the inability to gain the child's attention, and limited compliance, as reasons for perceived negative impact and challenges in their daily interactions. A unique finding from this study was the perceived positive impact of raising a child with autism.