Autism has become one of the major causes of depression in many families of the 21st Century. To start with, autism is a disorder in which kids show impaired or regressive social interactions, verbal or non-verbal communication. Most kids who suffer from autism show sign of lack of eye contact during speech, repeated body movements like flapping of hands when talking, delayed speech or no speech at all. Statistics have shown that one in every one hundred new born babies have autism. Many physicians have come up with possible causes of autism in children but up to date it is still not scientifically proven what really causes autism. In his book (Hastings, 2003) laments that autism in the child is mainly attributed to genetic disorders or the surroundings of child. It is also been proven that exposure of the fetus to chemical such as tar in cigarettes can often lead to autism in new born babies and therefore expectant mothers are highly advised by doctors to avoid drinking, smoking or even taking other drugs which may directly affect the unborn offspring. Many families whose kids are autistic often find it hard interacting with their kids and as a result many guardians end up being under a lot of stress and pressure. Such families may end up taking such kids to special schools or even therapies as such kids are usually vulnerable to bullying and isolation in schools. On the other hand families with healthy and social kids are usually under less stress and pressure as they have few things to worry about. The real question we should be asking or most people ask themselves is what kind of difficulties do families with autistic children go through and what can be done to change these kids.
Statement of the Problem
Recent studies have suggested that in every one hundred and fifty children, one will be diagnosed with autism disorders. This is different from the previous estimates either four to five children per 10000. This figure ranks autism more common than pediatric diabetes, cancer and AIDS combined. Autism is prevalent across all the ethnic, racial as well as socioeconomic groups. This means that the condition is found in all the countries globally. Children born with autism disorders evoke stress to their family members especially the parents. (Bebko et al, 1987) Parents of autistic children are at a higher risk for both acute and chronic stress as compared to parents of children with other disabilities such as Downs syndrome and intellectual disabilities. Some parents get so stressed that they even run into depression, others get ashamed of their children and decide to hide them in the house or even take them to orphanages. The parents get exhausted from taking care of their autistic children while the siblings suffer from the environment which is stressful. The study is about higher levels of stress in families with autistic children than those families whose children function normally. The study, therefore, seeks to find the solutions to the problem of stress experienced by such families.
This study concurs with the hypothesis that parents of an autistic child experience more stress than parents of a child who has no disability. In many families with autistic kids the guardians have no other option but to turn to medical care or enroll their children in special facilities where the infants can be taken care of. In such institutions there is an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcomed and valued. Several types of research have shown that a child diagnosed with the developmental disability leads to the family being emotionally stressed (Bebko et al, 1987). This study is meant to improve the welfare of both the autistic children and their family members. The study is important as it will help to come up with ways to reduce and eliminate stress levels in such families. The study will also enhance the professional development by as it is an addition to the existing body of knowledge in the focus area.
Objectives of the study
The main intention of this study is to seek ways to manage the stress of the family members of an autistic child. The study also seeks to explore the support requirements such parents need as well as to better understand the experiences of parenting an autistic child. The study will also evaluate the causes of stress of families with autistic children. Having knowledge on these will assist to come up with measures that will help reduce the stress levels to such parents.
The study seeks to answer the following questions:
What are the experiences of parenting an autistic child?
What are the causes of stress in parents of autistic children?
What are the support needs required by the families who parent autistic children?
Scope of the study
The study will be conducted in a hospital setting and on specific days when parents bring their autistic children for clinic. Those parents who will give consent to participate in the study will be included.
Limitations of the Study
The study will face the following limitations; a lot of time will be spent to obtain data from the respondents especially during face to face interview. The research will require a lot of financial input. The study entails getting information from respondents who are stressed, and there is a potential that they will be reluctant to participate.
The theoretical framework surrounding this subject is the theory of parental stress. This theory utilizes the definition of stress that refers to the interactive process between the stressor and ones reaction and perception of that particular stressor (Hastings, 2003). One of the common theories of parenting stress relates to the connection of three components; parent related stressors, stressors related to the behavior of the child, and stressors related to the relationship between the parent and the child (Davis & Carter, 2008). The rise of these three is connected to general parenting stress as well as issues related to parenting and development of the child. This theory operates in two directions; the well-being of the parents and the style of parenting have a significant effect on the child, and the childs behaviors affect the parent. Not only does parenting stress have negative impacts in both the mental health and self efficacy of the parents, it also influences the childs level of functioning (Davis & Carter, 2008). An example is when a parent who is not able to manage stress yells angrily at a child who fails to complete a specific chore; this act of yelling can easily evoke a sudden outburst and yell from the child. The childs outburst serves as evidence, from the view of the parent, that the relationship between the child and the parent is strained.
The Daily Hassles theory complements the parenting stress theory. This theory combines other theories of stress and comes up with a suggestion that the experience of the stressing factors related to parenting is normal (Hastings et al, 2005). The theory further explains that parenting stress can become an issue if the parents are not capable of adopting and learning to cope with the daily stressors of child rearing. Even though the daily hassles are not the key stressors, they can result to parents facing distress and in the end psychological order onset if they build-up. One variable that most researchers have associated as specifically important in differentiating between the daily hassles as stressors and daily hassles as annoyance is the perception of the parents (Tomanik et al, 2004). If a parent relates a childs bad behavior to the childs individuality, then that parent has a high potential to tolerate the annoyance than if the parent outlooks the misbehavior as a symbol of his or her own failure as a parent or a signal of the weak connection between the parent and the child. In the latter situation, the views of the parents, as well as lack of adaptation, are more capable of resulting in parental stress (Baker-Ericzen et al, 2005). In situations where a child is involved in recurrent problem behavior, for example, a child with developmental disabilities and behavior disorders, the parent is likely to experience persistent stress which calls for different techniques of adjusting and coping than the experience of a particular stressful event (Lecavalier et al, 2006).
Autism is a neuro-developmental disability which affects the development of the brain in areas of social communication and interaction (Mori et al, 2009). Autism is a condition that affects an individual for the entire life duration. It always manifests in early childhood, and it can range from mild to severe since two people diagnosed with the same condition can act very differently. The common symptoms of an autistic child are difficulty in talking and forming relationships. Other symptoms that manifest in different levels are difficulties in seeing sense in the world around them and sensory difficulties. Hobson, in his many studies, come up with a theory that states that the deficiencies associated with autism are primarily affective. He also states that there is an inability to engage in emotional interaction with other people. Hobson made a summary of his theory in four assumptions. One is that, the autistic children lack the mechanisms of action and reaction which is fundamental for the development of an individual to be able to relate to other people, these relations involve feelings. The second assumption is that, the relations are a requirement for an individual to understand the surrounding world. The third assumption is that, the lack of involvement in the psycho-social activities in autistic children is brought about by the following; the failure to identify other peoples thoughts, feeling, intentions and feelings, and the serious impairment in their ability to symbolically think and feel. The forth and last assumption is that the three other assumptions eventually impair the social skills ability of the child.
Experiences of parenting an autistic child
The most commonly explored topic of the experience of families of children with autistic disabilities is that of parenting stress (Davis & Carter, 2008). Stress usually occurs when the pressure is higher than the available resources. Greater demands associated with the role of parenting results in the experience of discomfort and distress. The study on families of autistic children experiences more stress than families with normal functioning children seconds the assumption that parents of a disabled child experience high levels of stress as compared to parents of a normal child (Dunn et al, 2001). In a study carried out by (Rao & Beidel, 2009) on stress levels of parents of children with various developmental disabilities including autism, they also concurred with the great amount of research that affirms to the harmful psychological effect on parents who take care of a disabled child. Some parents are able to tolerate the challenges as well as the demands of taking care of an autistic child while majority of the parents find it hard to cope. The latter are likely to face such outcomes as anxiety, low self-esteem, distress and depression. (Tomanik et al, 2004) in their study, focused their study on the connection between physical health and stress in parents who nurture children with autism and other developmental disabilities. The finding from their studies was that more physical health problems were reported by these parents and these findings were consistent with other studies including (Hastings et al, 2005) who asserted that an increased risk of getting depressed as well as developing various chronic conditions is...
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