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Researcher Perspective Talk: Modelling developmental processes. Vaso Totsika CEDAR. Intellectual Disability and Autism. Intellectual disability : below average cognitive skills ( coupled with significant limitations in adaptive skills) Present in about 3% of the population

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Researcher Perspective Talk: Modelling developmental processes

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Researcher Perspective Talk:Modelling developmental processes



Intellectual Disability and Autism

  • Intellectual disability: below average cognitive skills (coupled with significant limitations in adaptive skills)

  • Present in about 3% of the population

  • Autism: neurodevelopmental disorder. Problems in social interaction, patterns of communication, and a repetitive repertoire of interests and behaviours

  • Present in about 1% of the population

  • Why SEM?

What I/we knew so far….

  • 10s of studies: children with autism have higher levels of behaviour problems than typically developing children

  • 10s of studies: increased stress levels in mothers of children with autism

  • The two must be related (?)

Yes, they are

  • 10s of studies suggesting child behaviour problems a systematic ‘predictor’ of parental well-being

  • Evidence suggested that child CB a significant ‘predictor’ of parental well-being even after accounting for child ability/severity of ASD.

  • Evidence suggested that after controlling for child CB, parental well-being no longer different from parents of TD children

  • Cross-sectional…

Longitudinal studies

Multiple Regression Model 1

Multiple Regression Model 2

Child CB T1

Parent Stress T1

Child CB T2

Parent Stress T2

Parent Stress T1

Child CB T1

T1-T2 Change in par. stress

T1-T2 Change in child CB

  • If R2 for step 2 increased and betas for other person’s variables p<.05: significant

  • If significant in both models: evidence of bidirectional relationship

What is a bidirectional relationship?

Developmental theory

-How best to describe the relationship between children and parents?

  • Children and parents are dynamic entities

  • What are the processes that explain development?

  • Children and their environments are in a state of constant interplay, shaping one another all the time (transactional relationship –Sameroff’s work)

    ---- How can this be modelled??

Transactional model

Sameroff, 2009, p.13

Makes sense now…

Structural equation model, path model, cross-lagged panel study, cross-lagged path analysis

Structural Equation Models

  • Statistical methodology

  • Main function: to confirm a theory.

  • Can model a number of relationships (structural equations) simultaneously.

  • Structural relationships can be modelled pictorially (very useful for longitudinal data).

  • Allows for observed variables but also latent factors

  • Not so well developed (yet) for non-interval-level outcomes

Totsika et al., 2013


  • Findings did not support the presence of a bidirectional relationship.

  • Child behaviour had a near-zero effect on maternal well-being across all models.

  • Maternal psychological distress was associated with an increase in child behaviour problems 2 years later

  • Maternal life satisfaction was associated with decreased child behaviour problems 2 years later

  • So, is maternal well-being a risk factor for child behaviour?

Identifying Risk

  • Not an analysis issue

  • A conceptual issue that (should) affects the design of studies that want to identify risk factors

  • To establish that a factor is a risk factor for an adverse outcome:

  • It has to precede the outcome

  • It has to be correlated to the outcome

Totsika et al., in press

How do risk factors work together?

  • Independent risk factors

  • Mediators

  • Moderators

  • Proxy risk factors

    All risk factors. Three things are important in helping us determine their relationship:

    a. Temporal precedence, b. correlation, c. dominance

Kraemer et al., 2001; Kraemer 2010

  • Systematic definition of risk

  • Framework applied when (a) established risk factors but unknown relationship (e.g., predicting re-offence (Lofthouse et al., in press), (b) selecting variables for confirming a hypothesised relationship

Kraemer et al., 2001

Back to development

  • (My) world is full of risk and moderators!

  • SEP is a risk factor for child behaviour

  • SEP is a risk factor for mat depression

  • SEP moderates child CB- mat. well-being r

  • Coping moderates child CB- mat. well-being r

  • Social support moderates child CB- mat. well-being r

  • Social support is a protective factor for mat. Depression

  • Poor parenting a risk factor for child behaviour

  • Interaction terms in Regression /ANOVA p<.05= Moderator!

  • Moderators are sig. interactions but not all interactions are significant moderators.

Back to theory

Parent emotional probs

Child well-being



Conger & Donellan, 2007

T 1

T 2

T 3

T 4

Parent emotional probs

Child well-being





Par. investment

T 1

T 3

T 2

T 4


  • A very useful technique for describing developmental processes / longitudinal relationships

  • Modelling many regressions at once approximates better real-life than a series of regression models

  • Pictorial + many time points: helpful in understanding/test risk relationships

Thank you

  • Conger, R.D., & Donellan, M.B. (2007). An interactionist perspective on the socioeconomic context of human development. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 175-199.

  • Kraemer, H.C. (2010). Epidemiological methods: About time. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 7, 29-45.

  • Kraemer, H.C., Stice, E., Kazdin, A., & Kupfer, D. (2001). How do risk factors work together to produce an outcome? Mediators, moderators, independent, overlapping and proxy risk factors. American Journal of Psychiatry, 258, 848-856.

  • Lofthouse, R., Totsika, V., Hastings, R.P., Lindsay, W.R., Hogue, T.E., & Taylor, J.L. (2014). How do static and dynamic risk factors work together to predict violent behaviour amongst offenders with an intellectual disability? Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 58,125-133.

  • Totsika, V., Hastings, R.P., Vagenas, D., & Emerson, E. (in press). Parenting and the behaviour problems of young children with an intellectual disability: Concurrent and longitudinal relationships in a population-based study. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

  • Totsika, V., Hastings, R.P., Emerson, E., Lancaster, G.A., Berridge, D.M., & Vagenas, D. (2013). Is there a bidirectional relationship between maternal well-being and child problem behaviors in autism spectrum disorders? Longitudinal analysis of a population-defined sample of young children. Autism Research, 6(3), 201-211.

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