Stress and coping in families of autistic children : an alternative approach



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The purpose of the present study was to test an alternative approach to stress and coping in families of autistic children. This approach views the stresses that result from having an autistic child as potential threats to the fulfillment of certain individual needs, and suggests that parents of autistic children cope with these stresses by redefining what constitutes the fulfillment of these needs and by developing alternative means of satisfying them. A semi-structured interview and various questionnaires were given to 58 mothers (29 of autistic and 29 of nonautistic children). The interviews compared the need definitions of the mothers and the questionnaires assessed family organization, family cohesion, career orientation, tolerance for ambiguity, and individual and marital adjustment. Mothers of autistic children also completed a short form of The Questionnaire of Stress and Coping and The Autism Behavior Checklist. Results showed that, as compared to the mothers of nonautistic children, mothers of autistic children spent more time with extended family, placed more emphasis on spousal support and parental role, had more difficulty understanding their children's behavior, and placed less emphasis on others' opinions regarding their children's behavior. The findings are examined in the light of the proposed approach and the implications for future research and services are discussed.



Autistic children, Family relationships