Dimensions of Object Relations in People with Autism Spectrum Disorder as a Basis for Strengthening Social Relatedness Skills
This paper presents the results of a study focusing on the dimensions of object relations in people with autism spectrum disorder. An object relation denotes a relationship with a significant other, within which several identification processes take place through a meaningful emotional exchange. This is described by the developmental process of separation and individuation, which primarily occurs in children from birth to their third year of life. Although deficits in social relationships represent the most typical features of autism, there is still a great deal of uncertainty in this field. Based on the theoretical background, we hypothesised that differences in the characteristics of object relations in people with autism spectrum disorder compared to the characteristics of object relations in people without autism spectrum disorder are reflected in a greater expression of disturbances in object relations, especially in the more pronounced dimensions of greater social isolation and symbiotic merging. The quantitative research sample comprised 38 adults with autism spectrum disorder with normal intellectual abilities and 100 adults without autism spectrum disorder. The Test of Object Relations, which measures the individual dimensions of object relations, was used for data collection. The results show that there are statistically significant differences between the two groups of respondents, as the dimensions of symbiotic merging, social isolation and separation anxiety are more pronounced in adults with autism spectrum disorder. These findings serve as a basis for designing professional support for people with autism spectrum disorder in order to promote autonomy to strengthen the skills needed for social relatedness and social inclusion.
American Psychiatric Association (2022). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fifth edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425787
Attwood, T. (2006). The complete guide to Asperger’s syndrome. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Beckwith, L., Cohen, S. E., & Hamilton, C. E. (1999). Maternal sensitivity during infancy and subsequent life events relate to attachment representation at early adulthood. Developmental Psychology, 35(3), 693–700.
Burrell, T. L., & Borrego, J., Jr. (2012). Parents’ involvement in ASD treatment: What is their role? Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 19(3), 423–432. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cbpra.2011.04.003
Chevallier, C., Kohls, G., Troiani, V., Brodkin, E. S., & Schultz, R. T. (2012). The social motivation theory of autism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16(4), 231–239. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2012.02.007
Christensen, D. L., Maenner, M. J., Bilder, D., Constantino, J. N., Daniels, J., Durkin, M. S., Fitzgerald, R. T., Kurzius-Spencer, M., Pettygrove, S. D., Robinson, C., Shenouda, J., White, T., Zahorodny, W., Pazol, K., & Dietz, P. (2019). Prevalence and characteristics of autism spectrum disorder among children aged 4 years – Early autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, seven sites, United States, 2010, 2012, & 2014. Surveillance Summaries MMWR, 68(2), 1–19. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.ss6802a1
Clements, C. C., Zoltowski, A. R., Yankowitz, L. D., Yerys, B. E., Schultz, R. T., & Herrington, J. D. (2018). Evaluation of the social motivation hypothesis of autism: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry, 75(8), 797–808. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.1100
Crowell, J. A., Keluskar, J., & Gorecki, A. (2019). Parenting behavior and the development of children with autism spectrum disorder. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 90, 21–29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.comppsych.2018.11.007
Dissanayake, D., & Crossley, S. A. (1997). Autistic children’s responses to separation and reunion with their mothers. Journal of Autism and Development Disorders, 27(3), 295–312.
Doussard-Rousevelt, J. A., Joe, C. M., Bazhenova, O. V., & Porges, S. W. (2003). Mother-child interaction in autistic and nonautistic children: Characteristics of maternal approach behaviors and child social responses. Development and Psychopathology, 15(2), 277–295. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0954579403000154
Elmose, M. (2020). Understanding loneliness and social relationships in autism: The reflections of autistic adults, Nordic Psychology, 72(1), 3–22. https://doi.org/10.1080/19012276.2019.1625068
Galpin, J., Barratt, P., Ashcroft, E., Greathead, S., Kenny, L., & Pellicano, E. (2017). “The dots just don’t join up”: Understanding the support needs of families of children on the autism spectrum. Autism, 22(5), 571–584. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361316687989
Gardiner, E. (2014). Quality of life in families of children with autism spectrum disorder: Considerations of risk and resilience. https://summit.sfu.ca/_flysystem/fedora/sfu_migrate/14547/etd8631_EGardiner.pdf
Gialloreti, L. E., Benvenuto, A., Battan, B., Benassi, F., & Curatolo, P. (2016). Can biological components predict short-term evolution in Autism Spectrum Disorders? A proof-of-concept study. Italian Journal of Pediatrics, 42(70), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13052-016-281-4
Ginn, N. C., Clionsky, L. N., Eyberg, S. M., Warner-Metzger, C., & Abner, J. P. (2017). Child-directed interaction training for young children with autism spectrum disorders: Parent and child outcomes. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 46, 101–109. https://doi.org/10.1080/15374416.2015.1015135
Giovedi, S., Corradi, A., Fassio, A., & Benfenati, F., & Gardiner, E. (2014). Involvement of synaptic genes in the pathogenesis of autism spectrum disorders: The case of synapsins. Frontiers in Pediatrics, 2(94), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.33897fped.2014.00094
Grzadzinski, R., Luyster, R., Spencer, A. G., & Lord, C. (2014). Attachment in young children with autism spectrum disorders: An examination of separation and reunion behaviours with both mothers and fathers. Autism, 18(2), 85–96. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361312467235
Hansen, S. N., Schendel, D. E., & Parner, E. T. (2015). Explaining the increase in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders. The proportion attributable to changes in reporting practices. JAMA Pediatrics, 169(1), 56–62.
Jones, K. A., Kramer, T. L., Armitage, T., & Williams, K. (2003). The impact of father absence on adolescent separation-individuation. Genetic, social, and general psychology monographs, 129(1), 73.
Kins, E., Beyers, W., & Soenens, B. (2012). When the separation-individuation process goes awry: Distinguishing between dysfunctional dependence and dysfunctional independence. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 37(1), 1–12.
Kobayasi, R. (2000). Affective communication of infants with autistic spectrum disorder and internal representation of their mothers. Psychiatric and Clinical Neurosciences, 54, 235–243.
Kovač Šebart, M., Štefanc, D., & Vidmar, T. (2021). Compulsory education reform between the profession and policy in the light of justice and equal opportunities. Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal, 11(2), 185–219. https://doi.org/10.26529/cepsj.1026
Lord, C., Brugha, T. S., Charman, T., Dumas, G., Frazier, T., Jones, E. J. H., Jones., R. M., Pickles, A., State, M. W., Taylor, J. L., & Veenstra-VanderWeele, J. (2020). Autism spectrum disorder, Nature Reviews Disease Primers, 6(5), 1–23. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41572-019-0138-4
Lugnegård, T., Unenge Hallerbäck, M., & Gillberg, C. (2012). Personality disorders and autism spectrum disorders: What are the connections? Comprehensive Psychiatry, 53, 333–340.
McInnis, P., Kohlhoff, J., & Eapen, V. (2020). Real-world Outcomes of PCIT for children at risk of autism or developmental delay. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 29(6),1701–1711. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-020-01699-0
Maenner, M. J., Shaw, K. A., Bakian, A. V., Bilder, D. A., Durkin, M. S., Esler, A., Furnier, S. M., Hallas, B., Hall-Lande, J., Hudson, A., Hughes, M. M., Patrick, M., Pierce, K., Poynter, J. N.; Salinas, A., Shenouda, J., Vehorn, A., Warren, Z., Constantino, ... Cogswell, M. E. (2021). Prevalence and characteristics of autism spectrum disorder among children aged 8 years – Autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 11 sites, United States, 2018. Surveillance Summaries MMWR, 70(SS-11), 1–16. http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.ss7011a1
Mahler, M., Pine, F., & Bergman, A. (1975). The psychological birth of the human infant. Hutchinson.
Mahler, M. (1987). On human symbiosis and the vicissitudes of individuation: Volume 1, infantile psychosis. International Universities Press, INC.
Marjanovič Umek, L. (2021). A new image of preschool institutions in Slovenia: Conceptual, systemic and curricular backgrounds. Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal, 11(2), 165–184. https://doi.org/10.26529/cepsj.1036
Mayuri, K., Divya, V., & Kiran, K. (2017). Parenting styles as perceived by parents and children. International Journal of Science and Research, 6(8), 978–982.
Nadeem, M. S., Murtaza, B. N., Al-Ghamdi, M. A., Ali, A., Zamzami, M. A., Khan, J. A., Ahmad, A., Rehman, M. U., & Kazmi, I. (2021). Autism – A comprehensive array of prominent signs and symptoms. Current pharmaceutical design, 27(11), 1418-1433. https://doi.org/10.2174/1381612827666210120095829
Ong, M. Y., Eilander, J., Saw, S. M., Xie, Y., Meaney, M. J., & Broekman, B. F. P. (2018). The influence of perceived parenting styles on socio-emotional development from pre-puberty into puberty. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 27(1), 37–46.
Ozonoff, S., & Iosif, A. M. (2019). Changing conceptualizations of regression: What prospective studies reveal about the onset of autism spectrum disorder. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 100, 296–304. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.03.012
Pallini, S., Chirumbolo, A., Morelli, M., Baiocco, R., Laghi, F., & Eisenberg, N. (2018). The relation of attachment security status to effortful self-regulation: A meta-analysis. Psychol Bull, 144(5), 501–531. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000134
Parmeggiani, A., Corinaldesi, A., & Posar, A. (2019). Early features of autism spectrum disorder: a cross-sectional study. Italian Journal of Pediatrics, 45(1), 144. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13052-019-0733-8
Prizant, B. M., Wetherby, A. M., Rubin, E. M. S., & Laurent, A. C. (2003). The SCERTS model: A transactional, family-centered approach to enhancing communication and socioemotional abilities of children with autism spectrum disorder. Infants & Young Children, 16(4), 296–316.
Praper, P. (1995). Tako majhen, pa že nervozen? [So little, and nervous already?]. Educa.
Praper, P. (1999). Razvojna analitična psihoterapija [Developmental analytical psychotherapy]. Inštitut za klinično psihologijo.
Rehberger, T. (2018). Vloga družine v zgodnji obravnavi otrok z avtizmom [The role of the family in the early treatment of children with autism]. Socialna Pedagogika, 22(3/4).
Rogers, S. J., & Dawson, G. (2010). Early start Denver model for young children with autism: Promoting language, learning, and engagement. Guilford Publications.
Rogers, T. D., McKimm, E., Dickson, P. E., Goldowitz, D., Blaha, C. D., & Mittleman, G. Schore, A. N. (2013). Is autism a disease of the cerebellum? An integration of clinical and pre-clinical research. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 7(15), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnsys.2013.00015
Schore, A. N. (2013). Regulation theory and the early assessment of attachment and autistic spectrum disorders: A response to Voran’s clinical case. Journal of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychotherapy, 12, 164–189. https://doi.org/10.1080/15289168.2013.822741
Schreibman, L., Dawson, G., Stahmer, A. C., Landa, R., Rogers., S. J., McGee, G. G., Kasari, C., Ingersoll, B., Kaiser, A. B., Bruinsma, Y., McNerney, E., Wetherby, A., & Halladay, A. (2015). Naturalistic developmental behavioral interventions: Empirically validated treatments for autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45, 2411–2428.
Tierney, A. L., & Nelson, C. A., III. (2009). Brain development and the role of experience in the early years. Zero to three, 30(2), 9–13.
Van Esch, L., Ceulemans, E., Van Leeuwen, K., & Noens, I. (2019). The association between parenting behaviours of mothers of adolescents with autism spectrum disorder and adolescent and mother characteristics. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 65, 46-55.
Volkmar, F., Chawarska, K., & Klin, A. (2005). Autism in infancy and early childhood. Annual Psychological Reviews, 56, 315–336.
World Health Organization (2018). International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 11th Revision (ICD-11). https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en#/http://id.who.int/icd/entity/437815624
Zaidman-Zait, A., Mirenda, P., Duku, E., Szatmari, P., Georgiades, S., & Volden, J., (2014). Examination of bidirectional relationships between parent stress and two types of problem behavior in children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(8), 1908–1917. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-014-2064-3
Zlomke, K. R., Bauman, S., & Edwards, G. S. (2019). An exploratory study of the utility of the dyadic parent-child interaction coding system for children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 31, 501–518. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10882-018-9648-3
Žvelc, G. (1998). Razvoj testa objektnih odnosov [Developing the Test of Object Relations]. Psihološka obzorja, 7(3), 51−67.
Žvelc, G. (2007). Razvoj integrativnega modela diadnih odnosov [Development of the integrative model of dyadic relations] (Unpublished doctoral thesis). University of Ljubljana, Department of Psychology.
Žvelc, G. (2008). Test of object relations. Instructions for use [Unpublished manuscript]. Ljubljana: Institute for Integrative Psychotherapy and Counselling.
Žvelc, G. (2010). Object relations and attachment styles in adulthood. Psihološka obzorja,19(2), 5−18.
Žvelc, G. (2011). Razvojne teorije v psihoterapiji: Integrativni model medosebnih odnosov [Developmental theories in psychotherapy: The integrative model of interpersonal relationships]. IPSA.
Žvelc, G., & Berlafa, T. (2015). Preliminary validation of the Test of Object Relations in a sample of Croatian students. Review of Psychology, 22(1–2), 19–27.
In order to ensure both the widest dissemination and protection of material published in CEPS Journal, we ask Authors to transfer to the Publisher (Faculty of Education, University of Ljubljana) the rights of copyright in the Articles they contribute. This enables the Publisher to ensure protection against infringement.