Most research on autism spectrum disorders (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.
In the new study, University of Miami (UM) College of Arts and Sciences psychologists Drs. Michael Alessandri and Hoa Lam Schneider worked with Texas Christian University researchers to learn strategies used by Hispanic families as they raise a child with autism.
“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.
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.
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 twofold: 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 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.
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.
Source: University of Miami