Role of Empathy, Compassion, and Reflective Capacity on Parental Perceptions of Attachment in Raising Autistic Children.

This project is being completed by Diana Raward as a research project for the Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) through Central Queensland University. This research looks into the parental attributes of empathy, compassion and reflective capacity and how they relate to parental perceptions of their attachment towards their autistic children, their mood and perceived social support

Thank you everyone who has participated. Your results are now being analyzed and interpreted.

Data Collection

Who can participate?

Are you over 18 years old?

Do you reside in Australia?

Are you the parent* of one or more children?

* parent for this research includes but is not limited to, mums, dads, step parents, adoptive parents, foster parents, grand parents, kin carers, guardians. Basically any adult who is responsible for the day to day well being of their children, no matter how they came into your lives.

Key Research Points

Institution: Central Queensland University

Degree: Bachelor of Psychology (Honours)

Ethics Committee: Central Queensland University

HREC Number: 2019-015

Supervisor: A/Prof Talitha Best

Information Sheet

Lost your copy of the participant Information Sheet? The Information Sheet summarizes how your responses will be used, what you have actually consented to, and where to turn to for additional support if participation has caused unintended distress.

Expected Results

This research is expected to be completed late October 2019. A Lay Summary will be available to all participants outlining in plain English the findings of this research.

Research Outcomes

While primarily completed as part of my ongoing studies this research has the potential to contribute to the knowledge available regarding raising children, Autistic and non-Autistic alike.

Any publications, articles, and presentations that result from this research will be listed here for participants to readily identify how they have contributed to the research outcomes.

Which parental attributes are being researched?

Female doctor comforting senior patient in hospital


Perspective Taking and Empathetic Concern

Drawing on the underlying idea that parental warmth and responsiveness taps into a parents feelings of empathy towards their child this research will be specifically looking at two components of empathy. Perspective Taking, or the ability to see the world from anthers point of view potentially ties in closely to Reflective Capacity. Similarly it would appear that Empathetic Concern would relate strongly to Compassion. However these relationships have not been explored in this way yet, and certainly not when raising autistic children.

Pretty nurse talking to senior patient in a wheelchair in park


Expressing Compassion, Responding to Compassion, and Compassion towards Yourself

Compassion. A simple word filled with so much potential. Compassion towards others, towards your child, even to your self. Just how exactly does a parent juggle compassion towards their child with their own needs for compassion towards themselves? Furthermore can these parents see and respond to the compassion shown to them from others?

Top view of a pensive man holding crumpled paper and notepad while sitting on carpet

Reflective Capacity

Pre-Mentalizing Modes, Certainty about Mental States, and Interest and Curiosity

Reflective Capacity is an exciting parental attribute that is starting to be explored more fully. It relates to the parents ability to interpret their own inner world and that of their child’s. This becomes particularly interesting with regards to autistic child-rearing. Do parents raising autistic children draw on this attribute? And if so how does this shape their perceptions of their parenting experience?

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any risks to participation?

This research project has been designed to reduce the potential risks down to the inconvenience of your time, however it is not possible to fully prevent potential discomfort. Being an anonymous survey it is anticipated that there will be no manner in which to tie your responses back to you, particularly as the demographic information has specifically been designed to remove any unnecessary and potentially identifying information.

The main potential risk is that the process of answering the questions, and reflecting on your parenting experience, could bring to mind some of the more challenging aspects of raising autistic children. Research, and the student researchers personal parenting journey, has shown that even in the most supported situations there are factors unique to raising autistic children that can be challenging. For this reason the Information Sheet includes links to services and supports that can be of benefit.

What about risks towards autistic children?

As this research focuses on the parent side of the parent-child relationship it is hoped that the resulting findings and any potential outcomes of this research do not negatively impact the autistic children related to this research, or any future autistic children and the adults they become.

From the disastrous “Refrigerator Mother Theory” through to the now debunked vaccination cause of Autism there are unfortunately many examples of poor research and flawed logic impairing the progress of research into Autism. The researchers involved in this project are keenly aware that their conclusions and interpretations of the analysis can potentially be misconstrued and misrepresented. It is for this reason that this page has been established, as a means to centralize the dissemination of the results openly and transparently with the participants through the Lay Summary.

Furthermore, any publications or presentations related to this research will be linked to via this page. Once again to help participants see how this research has progressed the field of Autism research.

How long will it take?

We estimate it will take 15 minutes to complete the survey.

What am I actually being asked to do?

You are invited to participate in an anonymous online survey which consists of 124 questions over 10 survey pages. You will be asked some basic questions about the number of children in your care, and some general demographics questions. None of this information is identifying in nature and will only be used to help interpret results. Following this you will be asked to rate your responses to six (6) scales relating to each of the concepts being investigated: reflective capacity, compassion (across two pages due to its length), empathy, mood, perceived attachment and perceived social support. As these scales are not designed specifically for raising autistic children some questions may not fully apply, you are encouraged to respond as you feel best fits.

What are you talking about when you say "attachment"?

Attachment Theory and the more recently popular Attachment Parenting are not the same thing, though we can understand the confusion. Attachment Parenting refers to a range of parenting practices that are hoped to build the parent-child bond, or attachment. These can involve co-sleeping, baby wearing, gentle discipline and other methods.

Attachment Theory, which this research is based on, is the core idea that the relationship that a child forms between themselves and their primary (and secondary) carers in those early years helps shape how they view themselves and their future relationships as they become adults. While Attachment Theory has identified parenting practices that can help or harm this parent-child bond their is actually no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. In principle any parenting approach that meets the physical and emotional needs of the child in a consistent and reinforcing manner can build a secure attachment.

This research is not pushing a particular parenting agenda or approach. Rather it is looking at how a parent views their attachment towards their autistic children and what parental attributes are linked to that.

Further Information

Please contact Central Queensland University’s Research Division should there be any concerns about the nature and/or conduct of this research project.

Tel: 07 4923 2603

Mailing address:
Building 32, CQUniversity,
554-700 Yaamba Road,
Norman Gardens QLD 4701