December 1, 2016
TCU student Kelcie Willis ’16 examined cultural variances in coping mechanisms.
by Laura Snyder
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Topics: Research & Discovery
by Laura Snyder
Families address having a child with autism spectrum disorder in different ways, but until now, little has been known about how Hispanic parents cope.
In the first study of its kind, researchers at TCU’s Department of Psychology shed light on the interrelationship between optimism, depressive symptoms and coping strategies of Hispanic mothers and fathers of children with autism.
While most research on parents of children with autism 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,” said Kelcie Willis ‘16, lead author of the study. “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 higher use of positive and support coping (for example, 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,” said 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 having a child with autism, giving clinicians the tools to provide more targeted counseling and support.
The paper, which appeared in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, was authored by Kelcie Willis, Lisa Timmons, Megan Pruitt and Naomi V. Ekas of TCU’s College of Science & Engineering and Hoa Lam Schneider and Michael Alessandri at the University of Miami.
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