Nav: Home

Raising a child with autism

May 09, 2016

Humans are resilient, even facing the toughest of life's challenges. How individuals and families deal with demanding and emotionally charged circumstances plays a large role in how they view and face the world and the possible outcomes of a difficult situation. There's no exception for the challenging Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and how families adjust and cope with the reported stress of raising a child with autism.

In the first known study of its kind, University of Miami (UM) College of Arts and Sciences psychologists Dr. Michael Alessandri and Dr. Hoa Lam Schneider worked with Texas Christian University researchers to further the understanding of the relationship between optimism, coping strategies, and depressive symptoms among Hispanic mothers and fathers of children with autism.

Most research on ASD tends to focus on the negative aspects of how parents handle having a child with the disorder, such as exhibiting depressive symptoms or maladaptive behaviors.

"Parents are really resilient and we wanted to learn the positive aspects of how they adjust when raising a child with ASD, as well as the specific coping strategies they are using," said Schneider, graduate student in the child clinical psychology program at UM's College of Arts and Sciences.

Focusing on the positive coping strategies and characteristics such as optimism is especially important for clinical psychologists in helping families adjust to raising a child with ASD.

"Our hope is that by identifying these stress-buffering qualities we may be able to tailor clinical interventions for families in a way that affords them the opportunity to strengthen these personal characteristics and responses," said Alessandri, clinical professor of psychology at UM and executive director of the UM-NSU Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD).

The psychologists also studied the gender and ethnic similarities and differences between Hispanic parents and the larger general population of non-Hispanic families.

Their reason for focusing on Hispanic families was two-fold - not only does South Florida provide a rich source of data on Hispanic parents but there is also a dearth of autism research that focuses on ethnicity.

Though there are many similarities between ethnic groups, there are some differences, particularly involving the use of religious coping strategies. Hispanics tend to rely more on their religious faith as a coping strategy compared to non-Hispanic families.

Hispanic families are in turn more likely to use religious coping styles positively and view the challenge of raising a child with ASD as a test of their faith and part of a divine plan. Whereas non-Hispanic families who use religious coping strategies tend to use these techniques more negatively, viewing their circumstances as divine punishment, and then often engaging in denial and substance abuse to avoid dealing with their circumstances.

The researchers also discovered that there were little to no gender differences between Hispanic mothers and fathers in this study.

The team hopes to further their research on autism by uncovering some of the nuances within ethnic and cultural differences, such as acculturation, ideas about mental health and its treatment, and country of ancestral origin. They also hope to gain insight into Hispanic families across the socioeconomic spectrum.

"The coping experience, we imagine, is even more impacted by socioeconomic factors than race or ethnicity factors, but it continues to be challenging to recruit these diverse samples," said Alessandri.

Though they are "just hitting the tip of the iceberg in understanding cultural and ethnic differences," said Schneider, the team is one of the few in the field diving deep to help answer some of these questions, with the ultimate goal of providing more targeted counseling and clinical support to families with children with ASD.
-end-
The study was first published online in March 2016 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders and co-authored by Texas Christian University undergraduate student Kelcie Willis and assistant professor Naomi K. Ekas, a former UM postdoctoral researcher in psychology.

University of Miami

Related Autism Articles:

Brain protein mutation from child with autism causes autism-like behavioral change in mice
A de novo gene mutation that encodes a brain protein in a child with autism has been placed into the brains of mice.
Autism and theory of mind
Theory of mind, or the ability to represent other people's minds as distinct from one's own, can be difficult for people with autism.
Potential biomarker for autism
A study of young children with autism spectrum disorder published in JNeurosci reveals altered brain waves compared to typically developing children during a motor control task.
Autism and the smell of fear
Autism typically involves the inability to read social cues. We most often associate this with visual difficulty in interpreting facial expression, but new research at the Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that the sense of smell may also play a central role in autism.
Autism often associated with multiple new mutations
Most autism cases are in families with no previous history of the disorder.
More Autism News and Autism Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...