Relational functioning in the family systems of children with social competency disorders
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Despite a remarkable need and demand for services, little is known about the family relationships of children with social competency disorders (SCD), defined in this study as children with Asperger’s Disorder and nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD). Both children with Asperger’s Disorder and children with NVLD exhibit social skill deficits essential to building and maintaining relationships. These social competency impairments are thought to be related to similarities in their neuropsychological profiles. The low prevalence rates of these conditions and the neuropsychological and behavioral similarities supports the combination of Asperger’s Disorder and NVLD as a “social competency disorders” group for purposes of research. Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) have been found to be highly comorbid in children with SCD, and were included in this study as clinical control group. The purpose of this study was to examine the relational functioning in the families of children with social competency deficits across different parts of the family system. It was hypothesized that the social competency deficits in children with SCD would result in significantly lower levels of relational functioning across the parent-child subsystem, parenting subsystem and whole family level of the family. Sixty-one children between the ages of 8-12 and their mothers participated in this study. Children were assigned to the SCD, ADHD or typically developing group based on pre-determined criteria. Self-report measures of interpersonal functioning in the parent-child relationship, strength of parenting alliance in the parental relationship and social support in the whole family were collected and compared across the three groups. As predicted, mothers of children with SCD reported significantly higher levels of dysfunction in the parent-child subsystem as compared to mothers of typically developing children; however, no significant differences in parent-child dysfunction were found between the SCD and the ADHD group. Contrary to the hypotheses proposed in this study, the SCD group showed no significant group differences on measures of parenting alliance and social support in the whole family. This study reveals the importance of intervention in the parent-child relationship in these families, and the need for additional research using longitudinal, multi-modal and multiple informant designs.