One study examined the impact that spiritual or religious faith had on families with autistic children. In this study 49 families of autistic children were examined for signs of stress either psychologically, emotionally or health wise. The study looked at participants who had autistic children between the ages of 4 and 20 years old. The study concluded that parents who have a strong religious or spiritual faith and support from religious groups showed a stress level that was no higher than families that do not have an autistic child (Pargament, 2001). The study attributed part of this contentment to the belief by parents that a higher power placed the autistic child in their life for a reason and he or she was one of God's gifts designed for that family. In addition, the support socially and emotionally that the parents derived from religious belonging helped the parents feel less alone as they dealt with the day-to-day elements of having a child with autism (Haworth, 1996).
Another study discovered that effective and consistent management of an autistic child's behavior toward a sibling helps to reduce the family's overall stress level significantly.
The study used interviews with families that had an autistic sibling and an autistic child. In the interview family members were asked to openly discuss the behavior of the autistic child toward siblings and the reactions of the sibling and the other family members when this occurred (Singer, 2001).
Families were encouraged to discuss arguments and aggressive actions between siblings regardless of how they had been handled and who the parents believed the primary aggressor was.
The study found that parents who received a measure of parental training in how to handle such relationships between their children were more successful at both managing the problem behavior and reducing the overall family stress formerly caused by the autistic child and sibling problems.
The study was conducted over a 26-month period and included families that received training with regard to autistic sibling relationships and families that did not receive the training (Singer, 2001).
The training consisted of parents learning to only intervene during times when the autistic child would become aggressive. Participants were also taught to communicate with their autistic sibling using small words and short sentences as well as a basic understanding of autism and its implications.
The study found that the parents and family members receiving the training were able to significantly reduce the stress level for the entire family by knowing how and when to manage sibling relationships between the autistic child and the non-disabled children.
With what is currently known about stress and autism it become evident that social contact and formal training can help parents alleviate and reduce the stress level within the family when they have an autistic child.
These studies and their conclusions are strong indicators of the need to develop parent classes for parents of autistic children. In addition parents need to be encouraged to develop social groups in which they feel welcomed and a part of.
If these things are implemented it will help reduce the stress within the families of autistic children which will in turn allow better management and a better overall environment for the autistic child.
Religious coping in families of children with autism.
Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities; 12/22/2001; Pargament, Kenneth I.
Harris, S.L., & Handleman, J.S. (1994). Preschool education programs for children with autism. Austin, TX: PRO-ED.
Haworth, A.M., Hill, A.E., & Glidden, A.M. (1996). Measuring religiousness of parents of children with developmental disabilities. Mental Retardation, 34(5), 271-279.
Holroyd, J., & McArthur, D. (1976). Mental retardation and stress on the parents: A contrast between Down's syndrome and childhood autism. American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 80, 431-436.
Family in Crisis: Replacing the Aggressive Behavior of a Child with Autism Toward an Infant Sibling.
Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions; 1/1/2001; Singer, George H.S.
Koegel, L.K., Stiebel, D., & Koegel, R.L. (1998). Reducing aggression in children with autism toward infant or toddler siblings. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 23, 111-118.
Moes, D. (1995). Parent education and parenting stress. In L.K. Koegel, R.L. Koegel, & G. Dunlap (Eds.), Positive behavioral support including people with difficult behaviors in the community (pp. 79-93). Baltimore: Brookes.