New research sheds light on how Hispanic parents of ASD children cope

Families cope with having a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in different ways, but until now, little has been known about how Hispanic parents deal with this situation.

In the first study of its kind, researchers at Texas Christian University’s Department of Psychology, along with colleagues at the University of Miami, shed light on the interrelationship between optimism, depressive symptoms, and coping strategies of Hispanic mothers and fathers of children with ASD.

While most research on ASD focuses on the negative aspects of how parents are handling the adjustment, such as depressive symptoms or maladaptive behaviors, the positive coping strategies families use are equally important for psychologists to understand.

"Much of the current literature in the field of ASD is quite negative in tone: families of children with ASD express high levels of depression, elevated anxiety, and overall poor quality of life,” says Kelcie Willis, lead author of the study and a graduating senior at TCU. “Moreover, most of the research assesses non-Hispanic White mothers. I wanted to examine a different side of the story. How might one positive variable—optimism—impact Hispanic mothers and fathers? I was surprised by how significantly dispositional optimism affects one’s coping style and even more surprised by the way culture interacted with our results.”

The study found that mothers reported greater depressive symptoms and greater use of positive and support coping (e.g., they were more willing to reach out to others during troubling times) than fathers, but both revealed similar levels of optimism, as well as similar levels of avoidant coping, such as substance use. 

The study found, for both mothers and fathers, that feeling optimistic about the future influences the type of coping strategies that individuals use, which translates to lower depressive symptoms.

“We did come across one unexpected finding: religious coping did not explain the relationship between optimism and depressive symptoms,” says Willis. “Given the importance of religion among Hispanic adults, we originally hypothesized that this type of coping would play an important role. However, we believe this finding highlights the complexity of religious coping and the need for more research in this area.”

The researchers hope to further understanding about cultural and ethnic factors that may affect how families cope with an ASD child, giving clinicians the tools to provide more targeted counseling and support.

The paper will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders and was authored by Kelcie Willis, Lisa Timmons, Megan Pruitt, and Naomi V. Ekas of TCU; and Hoa Lam Schneider and Michael Alessandri at the University of Miami. 

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Texas Christian University
Assistant Professor of Psychology