Parental maltreatment of children with autism spectrum disorder: A developmental-ecological analysis

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Background: Although children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to be exposed to harsh parental discipline, research on this issue is scarce. In particular, few studies have examined the risk factors for harsh parental discipline in this population. We responded to this gap in the literature by testing multiple individual and environmental factors as potential predictors of parental psychological aggression and physical assault toward children with ASD. Guided by a developmental-ecological perspective, we hypothesized that harsh parental discipline would be shaped by the characteristics of the child (symptom severity), the parent (parenting stress), the family (economic pressure), and the broader context (discrimination in the community). Method: A total of 424 Hong Kong parents of children with ASD completed standardized questionnaires. The hypotheses were tested using bivariate correlation and multivariate regression analyses. Results: At the bivariate level, child symptom severity, parenting stress, family economic pressure, and experienced discrimination were positively associated with parental psychological aggression. Moreover, child symptom severity and parenting stress were positively associated with parental physical assault. At the multivariate level, parenting stress was significantly related to psychological aggression, while child symptom severity and parenting stress were significantly related to physical assault. Mediation analyses further demonstrated that psychological aggression partially mediated the effect of parenting stress on physical assault. Conclusions: Theoretically, our findings contributed to our understanding of the origin of harsh parenting practices toward children with ASD. Practically, our findings provided insights about ways to identify high-risk families and to develop effective child maltreatment intervention programs. Copyright © 2016 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-114
JournalResearch in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Early online dateOct 2016
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016



Chan, K. K. S., & Lam, C. B. (2016). Parental maltreatment of children with autism spectrum disorder: A developmental-ecological analysis. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 32, 106-114.


  • Autism
  • Child abuse
  • Child maltreatment
  • Aggression
  • Parenting