Coping strategies used by parents of children with autism

Richard Twoy, Phyllis M Connolly, Jean M Novak
Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners 2007, 19 (5): 251-60

PURPOSE: The purpose of this research was to determine (a) the level of family adaptation, as measured by the Family Crisis Oriented Personal Evaluation Scales (F-COPESs) instrument, among persons with a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) aged 12 years and under, (b) if there was a difference in F-COPES scores based on family demographics, and (c) the time lag between parent's suspicion of ASD and the actual professional diagnosis of ASD.

DATA SOURCES: A descriptive survey was used with a convenience sample derived from ASD treatment agencies and a parental support group in the California Bay Area that supports the children and parents of children with special needs.

CONCLUSIONS: Overall, the level of adaptation was within the normal limits with coping scores similar to the norm scores of the F-COPES with males scoring slightly higher than females in the coping scale. Subscale scores of the F-COPES indicated that the parents sought encouragement and support from friends, informal support from other families who faced similar problems, and formal support from agencies and programs. Reframing revealed similar results as the norm with less use of spiritual support, and more passive appraisals were noted from the parents of children with ASD. Within internal comparisons, there were no statistical differences among gender and amount of time a member spent in coordination of services. Comparisons in ethnicity for Caucasians and Asian Americans revealed a higher coping score for reframing in Asian Americans and a higher passive appraisal score among Caucasians. Non-English speakers scored higher on spiritual support, while English speakers scored higher in passive appraisals. Because of insufficient statistical power, comparisons in education, income, marital status, and relocation of residence were deferred. The time from parents' suspicions of developmental delays or disability to a professional diagnosis of ASD was at least 6 months or greater.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: It is imperative for nurse practitioners (NPs) to provide appropriate professional support and other social support systems to families with children with ASD. Educating parents to sound therapy approaches to provide them with the skills needed to directly address stressful events in order to increase the parent's confidence level as to avoid passive appraisals is also a crucial role of the NP. NPs may want to use the F-COPES as part of the assessment to ascertain the areas of needs of families. This study reveals the resiliency and highly adaptive nature of these parents who are under severe strain and stress of caring for a child with ASD. The effective ways they coped as a family were in the areas of informal and formal social support networks. Participants also used passive appraisal to cope. The study also supports the need for early recognition and diagnoses of ASD and referral for early intervention for better outcomes for the children and families affected by ASD.

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