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In the very first study of its kind, the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences psychologists Dr. Michael Alessandri and Dr. Hoa Lam Schneider worked with Texas Christian University researchers to further understand the relationship between optimism, coping abilities and depression symptoms in Hispanic families with autistic children.
Most of the research done on autism tends to focus on the negative aspects of how parents handle a child with the disorder, such as exhibiting depressive symptoms or maladaptive behaviors. Dr. Schneider said, “Parents are really resilient and we wanted to learn the positive aspects of how they adjust when raising a child with ASD, as well as the specific coping strategies they are using.”
Focusing on positive coping mechanisms and characteristics such as optimism is particularly important for clinical psychologists in helping families adjust to raising an autistic child.
Alessandri states, “Our hope is that by identifying these stress-buffering qualities we may be able to tailor clinical interventions for families in a way that affords them the opportunity to strengthen these personal characteristics and responses.”
The team also studied gender and ethnic similarities and differences between Hispanic families and the larger population of non-Hispanic families.
The main reason for focusing on Hispanic families was because not only does Southern Florida provide a rich source of information on Hispanic parents, but there is also a deficiency of autism research that focuses on ethnicity.
Even though there are a lot of similarities between ethnic groups, there are some differences as well. Particular differences include religious coping strategies, with Hispanics relying more heavily on their religious faith to help them cope when compared to non-Hispanic families.
Hispanic families are in turn also more likely to use religious coping styles in a positive way and to view the challenges of raising an autistic child as a test of their faith and part of God’s divine plan. While on the other hand, non-Hispanic families who use religious coping strategies tend to use the same techniques in a negative manner, viewing their circumstances as divine punishment and then often engaging in denial and substance abuse to avoid having to deal with their situation.
Researchers discovered that there was little to no gender differences between Hispanic mothers and fathers in the study. The research team hopes to further their research on autism by discovering some of the nuances within ethnic and cultural differences. They feel they are just hitting the iceberg in terms of understanding cultural and ethnic differences and more research is needed to get answers to some of these questions.
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