Resilience in families with an autistic child

Van der Walt, Kerry-Jan (2006-03)

Thesis (MA (Psychology))--University of Stellenbosch, 2006.


The primary aim of this study was to identify the characteristics and resources that families possess that enable them to adapt successfully, and as such, be resilient despite the presence of an autistic child in the family. The study was rooted within the contextual framework of the Resilience Model of Adjustment and Adaptation of McCubbin, Thompson and McCubbin (1996). Self-report questionnaires were completed by the parents of 34 families whose children attend either the Alpha School for Autistic Learners, the Vera School for Autistic Learners, or the Special Needs Adapted Programme. The self-report questionnaires were based on the Resilience Model of Adjustment and Adaptation. In addition, families were required to complete a biographical questionnaire and an open-ended question relating to their experience of factors relating to adaptation. The results pointed towards the importance of resilience factors in adaptation. The most significant resilience factors identified in this study include higher socioeconomic status; social support; open and predictable patterns of communication; supportive family environment, including commitment and flexibility; family hardiness; internal and external coping strategies; a positive outlook; and family belief systems. The clinical utility of the study in facilitating adaptation lies in its ability to provide parents with confirmation of the value of their efforts to improve the quality of life of their autistic child, as well as the family, and in providing all those involved in helping the autistic child, albeit parents or professionals, with insight into ways of creating a family environment, which will enhance the well-being of the autistic child, without detriment to the total family system. Family resilience theory provides a relevant framework within which the process of adapting to an autistic child can be considered. By applying these theories to their specific crisis situation, families of autistic children can work towards identifying, as well as implementing those factors which will lead to better adaptation, and thus increased resilience.

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