Background: While there is growing evidence demonstrating benefits of parent mentalization for child social and emotional development, few studies have examined parent mentalizing in clinical populations. This paper examines mind-mindedness (a parent's tendency to represent their child in terms of mental states) in a sample of parents with a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We compared parent mind-mindedness about their child with ASD and a sibling in a similar age-range. We expected parents to use fewer and more negative mind-related descriptors of their child with ASD compared with the sibling. Method: Fifty-four parents of children (aged 5–12 years) with ASD completed a survey asking them to “Describe your child” for the child with ASD and a sibling without ASD, with order of presentation randomized. Severity of ASD diagnosis was assessed using DSM-V criteria. Descriptions were coded for reference to child mental states and proportional scores calculated to control for verbosity. Results: Parents used significantly fewer mind-related descriptors for their child with ASD compared with the sibling. Differences were moderated by ASD severity, with the largest differences apparent for parents whose child had severe ASD symptoms. Expected differences in negative descriptors were not found, but parents used significantly fewer positive and more neutral (often symptom-related) mind-related descriptors for their child with ASD. Conclusions: These findings suggest that parent mentalization may be challenged in relation to children with ASD. Directions for future research and clinical implications are discussed.
- parental mind-mindedness
- Autism Spectrum Disorder