Fathering a Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

By Martins, Claudia D.; Walker, Stephen P. et al. | Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology, May 2013 | Go to article overview

Fathering a Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis


Martins, Claudia D., Walker, Stephen P., Fouché, Paul, Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology


Abstract

Raising a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a stressful experience and has been associated with poor maternal mental health and increased maternal emotional distress. However, the experiences of fathers of children with ASD are largely unexplored and the coping strategies these men employ to cope with the challenges they face have received little research attention. This research aimed to explore the phenomenological experiences of fathers of preschool children with ASD by gaining a better understanding of the manner in which these individuals attempted to cope with their situation. A multiple, single-case study design was employed and five participants were recruited via two local paediatric practices. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with the participants and data were analysed making use of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). This analysis yielded three superordinate themes, which were labelled as follows: (a) the experience of fathering a child with ASD, (b) challenges of fathering a child with ASD, and (c) coping with fathering a child with ASD. The results suggest that the fathers of children with ASD experience their parental role as stressful. The participants in the current study related the stress they experienced to a number of challenges associated directly with their children 's behaviour, as well as to the effects that parenting a child with ASD had on their own wellbeing and functioning. The participants reported making use of a number of coping strategies in order to deal with the challenges they faced. The participants used both problem-focussed and avoidant coping strategies. The results are discussed and recommendations made with regard to future research.

Introduction

The past decade has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of children diagnosed with Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). According to Moore (2008), 1 in 1000 children were reported to be diagnosed with ASD in 1994, while Pottie and Ingram (2008) reported ASD prevalence as high as 6.7 children in every 1000 in the United States of America during 2007. Furthermore, evidence from a number of European countries including Denmark (Lauritsen, Pedersen, & Mortensen, 2004) and England (Baird et al., 2006), as well as from countries across Asia (Sun & Allison, 2010) suggests that the past 10 years have witnessed a noteworthy global increase in the prevalence of ASD diagnoses. It is debatable whether or not the actual incidence of ASD is on the rise. However, what appears obvious is that ASD diagnoses are being made more frequently worldwide. Matson and Kozlowski (2010) noted that while numerous theories have been formulated regarding the increase in ASD diagnoses, the broadening of the diagnostic criteria, improved assessment methods and a heightened awareness of autism symptoms appear to be primarily responsible for the increased prevalence of ASD diagnoses.

Dimensional conceptualisation of ASD

The international increase in the prevalence of ASD diagnoses may, in part, be due to a shift from the categorical conceptualisations of ASD as presented in the DSM-IV and ICD-10 classification systems to a more dimensional understanding of these disorders (Volkmar, State, & Klin, 2009). The dimensional conceptualisation of ASD proposes that the core features of ASD, namely (a) social skills deficits, (b) communication difficulties, and (c) restricted interests and repetitive behaviours, occur along a continuum rather than being indicative of discrete, independent syndromes or disorders (First & Tasman, 2004). Support for the dimensional approach to conceptualising ASD can be found in the research literature. For example, following a meta-analytic study Macintosh and Dissanayake (2004) concluded there was insufficient evidence to support the validity of Asperger's syndrome as being distinct from High Functioning Autism. In addition, Szatmari and colleagues (2009) reported that individuals diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome exhibit similar developmental trajectories from early childhood through adolescence to those trajectories shown by individuals diagnosed with autism. …

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