Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Qualitative Case Study on Challenges Recoupled Parents Encounter Raising Step Children with ASD

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Qualitative Case Study on Challenges Recoupled Parents Encounter Raising Step Children with ASD

Article excerpt

The various forms of families such as nuclear, single parents, adoptive, foster parents, same sex couples and stepfamilies, all have their own specific origin, design and family dynamics (Malcuit, 2013). These diverse families need support and direction from professionals, such as psychologists, counsellors and family therapists, at a more formal level, but also those who provide support and understanding at the informal level, for example, extended family and friends. Second marriages can struggle under the pressure of unrealistic expectations (Scarf, 2016). Having children who have ASD adds another level of complexity to the stepfamily form (Hayes & Watson, 2012). When a parent with a biological child re-partners or remarries, the understanding between the couple of what roles the stepparent plays can be contentious and this may magnify when a child with ASD is involved (Sim, Cordier, Vaz, & Falkmer, 2016). Further research in this field is paramount to gain a greater understanding of stepfamilies who have children with ASD. A stepparent's knowledge of ASD in comparison to that of the biological parent who has been dealing with the issues and behaviors of the child since birth will vary depending on the age of the child when the stepparent becomes a part of the family (Centre of Autism Research, 2014). Even if the stepparent has knowledge of ASD, they cannot come into the family as an instant "therapist," instead gradually establishing themselves as a stepparent, a new partner and new significant adult in the home (Graham, 2010). Children with ASD are more likely to react to change in a negative way (Centre of Autism Research, 2014; Jenson, Shafer & Holmes, 2015). Biological parents can support the stepparents' in their role through building trust in their partner/spouse enough to relinquish the fierce protection and control they have over their family which they have become accustomed to as a single parent. This can result in the stepparent participating without judgement and input as a caring significant adult in that child's life (Jensen, Shafer, & Holmes, 2015). This outcome positively decreases stress in stepchildren and children with ASD (Kersh, Hedvat, Hauser-Cram, & Warfield, 2006; Papernow, 2013).

There is growing research that shows stepfamilies can be successful and content family forms (Anderson & Greene, 2013); however, this depends on relevant encouragement, education and supports (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2007), both informal and formal, to meet their unique challenges (Graham, 2010). Success also depends on a sense of cohesion (SOC) between the couples in stepcouple relationships which promotes honest communication (Cartwright, 2010), settled, secure stepchildren (Jensen, Shafer, & Holmes, 2015), realistic pre-conceived expectations, positive working parenting relationships with former partners who are the other biological parents and quality couple time together without step/biological children (Coleman, Ganong, & Fine, 2000). Stepfamilies deal with constant unpredictable change, and children with ASD struggle in situations where there is little predictability. SOC between these couples is essential in them dealing with the changes and their extensive involvement in the child's treatment and management for ASD.

The growth of diversity in family forms needs to be addressed (Cowan, Field, Hansen, Skolnick, & Swanson, 2014). Within most western societies, family definitions have been altered and redefined many times to fit into situational changes, gain inclusive acceptance, and a sense of belonging within society (Coontz, 2004; de Vaus, 2004). The stepfamily form amongst other family designs has significantly increased in western society (Georgas, 2003). Historically and traditionally, families within western societies are defined as married parents with biological children (Cribb, 2009). Community, government, and professional supports have been designed to suit that model (Hayes, Weston, Qu, & Gray, 2010). …

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