Family experiences and identified mental health issues as defined by parents of children with autism spectrum disorders
This qualitative study conducted from a phenomenological perspective examined parents' perceptions of their families' experiences when the family included a child identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The study also explored parents' perceptions of services received by the child and family, including family therapy. Finally, the family's experiences with service providers were examined in an effort to determine what these experiences suggest to family therapists interested in meeting the mental health needs of families dealing with ASDs. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with parents of children between the ages of 6 and 21 who had been identified with an ASD. Each interview was audio-taped and transcribed. Transcriptions were then read and analyzed in an effort to explore the themes that developed from participants' descriptions of their own experiences and those of family members. Special attention was given to understanding the experiences of families dealing with an ASD and how the information shared by parents could inform the work of family therapists interested in meeting the mental health needs of the family. Parents who participated in this study wanted professionals to understand the vast differences found on the autism spectrum and the uniqueness of every child identified with an ASD. Parents shared their beliefs that ASDs are family conditions. Parents also shared information about the services they have received and need.