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Children with autism are more likely to exhibit externalizing behaviors than children without autism. A cross-sectional study was undertaken to investigate how parental mental health status and parenting practices contributed to the variance in externalizing behaviors among families of young children with autism in Chinese mainland, and whether parenting behaviors had any indirect effects on the relationship between parental mental health symptoms and externalizing behaviors. Data were drawn from the baseline assessment of a quasi-experimental study of a parent training program delivered to Chinese caregivers of children with autism aged 3 to 6 from diverse backgrounds (N = 111). Results showed that parental mental health symptoms and parenting behaviors explained the variance in child externalizing behaviors. Parental mental health problems and parental over-reactivity were linked to higher levels of child externalizing behaviors, whereas positive parenting was associated with less frequent externalizing behaviors. Positive parenting partially explained the relationship between parental mental health symptoms and externalizing behaviors. The findings of this study highlight the importance of actively attending to the psychological and parenting needs of caregivers in autism treatment programs. It points to the need for the development of culturally sensitive strategies to promote parental mental health and increase the use of positive parenting skills among parents of children with autism.

Original publication




Journal article


Family process

Publication Date



School of Social Development and Public Policy, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China.