Raising A Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Examining the Influence of Parental Stress, Racial Discrimination, and Law Enforcement Interactions on Racial Socialization Practices among Black Families



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Background: Parental stress is high for caregivers raising a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). One source of stress for parents is the risk of law enforcement officers (LEOs) misinterpreting ASD-related behaviors as threatening or suspicious. For various reasons, law enforcement officers (LEOs) come into contact with autistic youth despite limited police training on the neurodevelopmental disability. The stress is particularly relevant for Black parents raising an autistic child due to the concerns related to ASD symptoms in addition to their racially minoritized identity. Racially biased stereotypes contribute to negative experiences with law enforcement for Black youth including disproportionate victimization by police. Taken together, Black autistic youth are in a vulnerable position, and Black parents raising a child diagnosed with ASD manage the additive stress from parenting an autistic child and managing their family’s experiences with racism and elevated risk for racial profiling in policing practices. Purpose: The current study explored the stressors uniquely experienced by Black families raising an autistic child with specific investigation of their fears and parenting behaviors influenced by the anticipation of encountering law enforcement officers. Thus, the study was guided by the following research questions to gain understanding: (1) What are the reported parental and race-related stressors experienced by Black families raising a Black child with ASD? (2) What fears do Black parents have regarding their Black child with ASD interacting with law enforcement? and (3) How do Black parents raising a Black child with ASD engage in racial socialization practices to prepare their child for interactions with law enforcement? Method: Using a convergent parallel mixed method design, a purposive sample of 13 Black parents raising a Black autistic adolescent were recruited to complete questionnaires; seven of those parents completed an individual interview. Quantitative data were analyzed using SPSS and qualitative data were analyzed using constant comparison analysis to identify themes. Results: All participants reported their child had a past interaction with LEO, and 97% feared that their child may be harmed or harassed during a future LEO interaction. Five themes emerged within parental stress that included fear of bias due to their child’s disability and race, three themes emerged to describe parent’s fears regarding LEO, and parent’s racial socialization practices revealed three themes including direct teaching. Conclusion: Black parents experience ongoing stressors related to parenting an adolescent with an ASD diagnosis and preparing their child with tools to interact successfully within the world. The results of this study add to the literature examining the relationship between law enforcement and youth with ASD through an intersectional lens. Implication for research, practice, and policy are shared to encourage support and protection for this uniquely vulnerable population.



Autism spectrum disorder, Racial socialization, Parenting stress, Discrimination, Law enforcement, Black autistic youth