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Parental Expressed Emotion and how it can affect a child with ASD

Parental expressed emotion can have a significant impact on a child with ASD's well-being.

Parenting a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be a challenging experience, as managing a child's behaviour and unique needs can take a toll on parents' mental health. One factor that has been found to have an impact on a child with ASD's well-being is parental expressed emotion (EE), which refers to the way parents express their emotions towards their child. High levels of negative EE, such as criticism, hostility and emotional over-involvement, have been associated with negative outcomes for children with ASD, including anxiety, depression and behavioural problems. This article explores the concept of EE and how it can affect children with ASD, along with strategies for managing it, such as psychoeducation, emotional support, and family-based interventions.

What is Parental Expressed Emotion?

EE is a measure of the emotional atmosphere in the family environment, which is based on how parents express their emotions towards their child. EE is made up of three components: criticism, hostility and emotional over-involvement. Criticism refers to negative comments about the child's behaviour or character, hostility refers to negative emotional responses such as anger or irritation, and emotional over-involvement refers to excessive emotional investment in the child's life. High levels of criticism and hostility, along with high levels of emotional over-involvement, have been found to be detrimental to the well-being of a child with ASD.

EE and its Impact on Children with ASD

Research has demonstrated that EE has a more significant impact on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) than on typically developing children. Parents who exhibit high levels of criticism, hostility, and emotional over-involvement are more likely to elicit negative emotional responses from their children with ASD, which can lead to increased behavioural problems, anxiety, and depression. A negative EE can cause a child with ASD to become easily overwhelmed and stressed, which may exacerbate their symptoms and lead to behavioural difficulties. Moreover, emotional over-involvement, which can manifest as excessive worry or a lack of boundaries, can hinder a child's development by making them overly dependent on their parents and impeding their ability to learn how to manage their emotions and solve problems independently. Therefore, it is crucial for parents of children with ASD to be aware of their emotional responses to their child's behaviour and to practice strategies that promote a positive EE.

Managing Parental Expressed Emotion

Managing EE can be challenging, but it is essential for the well-being of both the child and the parent. Here are some strategies that can be helpful in managing EE:

1. Increase awareness of EE: Parents need to be aware of their own emotional responses to their child's behaviour. They can do this by keeping a journal or attending therapy sessions.

2. Encourage positive communication: Parents can focus on using positive communication and praise instead of criticism and hostility when interacting with their child.

3. Set realistic expectations: Parents can set realistic expectations for their child and themselves. It is essential to recognise that a child with ASD may have different needs and abilities than a typically developing child.

4. Seek support: Parents can seek support from family, friends, and professionals to manage their emotional well-being.


Parental expressed emotion can have a significant impact on a child with ASD's well-being. It is essential for parents to be aware of their emotional responses and take steps to manage them. By using positive communication, setting realistic expectations and seeking support, parents can create a positive emotional environment that promotes their child's well-being.

Written by: Hayley


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