Most studies examining attachment in children with autism spectrum disorder used a strange situation paradigm and have found few significant group differences between children with autism spectrum disorder and comparisons. However, these studies predominantly used formal attachment categorizations (e.g. secure vs insecure), a method that may obscure more nuanced differences between groups. In this study, we utilized a qualitative approach to examine attachment behaviors in young children with autism spectrum disorder. Based on the results of previous studies, we looked at (a) parental gender, (b) child diagnosis, and (c) child cognitive skills to examine the role of these three factors on attachment behaviors elicited during a modified strange situation paradigm. Participants were 2- to 3-year-old children with autism spectrum disorder (n = 166) or nonspectrum disorders (n = 45), as well as a sample of 56 children with typical development. Over the three groups, 393 observations of a modified strange situation paradigm with mothers and 127 observations with fathers were collected. Parental gender, child diagnosis, and child cognitive skills each had significant main effects on attachment behaviors elicited during reunion. These results underscore the importance of the father's role in parent-child interactions, with implications for both clinical and research efforts. In addition, the results emphasize the importance of considering a child's diagnosis and cognitive skills when examining attachment behaviors.
Keywords: Attachment; Autism Spectrum Disorders; fathers; parents.