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 from Brightsurf:

Autism-cholesterol link
Study identifies genetic link between cholesterol alterations and autism.

National Autism Indicators Report: the connection between autism and financial hardship
A.J. Drexel Autism Institute released the 2020 National Autism Indicators Report highlighting the financial challenges facing households of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including higher levels of poverty, material hardship and medical expenses.

Autism risk estimated at 3 to 5% for children whose parents have a sibling with autism
Roughly 3 to 5% of children with an aunt or uncle with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can also be expected to have ASD, compared to about 1.5% of children in the general population, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Adulthood with autism
The independence that comes with growing up can be scary for any teenager, but for young adults with autism spectrum disorder and their caregivers, the transition from adolescence to adulthood can seem particularly daunting.

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 often associated with multiple new mutations
Most autism cases are in families with no previous history of the disorder.

State laws requiring autism coverage by private insurers led to increases in autism care
A new study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that the enactment of state laws mandating coverage of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was followed by sizable increases in insurer-covered ASD care and associated spending.

Autism's gender patterns
Having one child with autism is a well-known risk factor for having another one with the same disorder, but whether and how a sibling's gender influences this risk has remained largely unknown.

Read More: Autism News and Autism Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.