Family Cohesion and Parental Well-Being in Families of Children with An Autism Spectrum Disorder: The Role of Ethnicity

Thursday, May 17, 2012
Sheraton Hall (Sheraton Centre Toronto)
1:00 PM
N. Ekas1, S. Celimli2, A. Gutierrez3 and M. Alessandri3, (1)TCU Box 298920, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX, (2)University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, (3)Psychology, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL
Background: Family cohesion is the emotional connection that family members exhibit towards each other that keeps them together as a system. Family cohesion has been found to be directly related to positive outcomes for both parents and children and is essential to understanding the variance in families’ reaction to ongoing developmental stressors, such as having a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Familism (familismo), which has a similar meaning as family cohesion, is the term used to emphasize the importance of the family unit in studies of Hispanic populations. While family cohesion (and familism) has been extensively studied in Hispanic families or in families of children with ASD in general, there has been no research focusing on possible ethnic differences (Hispanic vs. Caucasian) in the association between family cohesion and well-being among parents of children with an ASD.

Objectives: To examine the association between family cohesion and parental well-being in families of children with an ASD and determine whether ethnicity moderates the association. This study also examined predictors of family cohesion and whether the associations were different for Hispanic versus Caucasian parents.

Methods: One hundred and twenty-eight parents (Mothers = 117, Fathers = 11) participated in the current study. Seventy-nine parents were Hispanic and 49 were Caucasian. Parents completed several questionnaires assessing child symptom severity (Social Communication Questionnaire), family cohesion (Family Adaptability and Cohesion Scales), depression (Center for Epidemiological Scales – Depression), optimism (Life Orientation Test), benefit finding (Benefit Finding Scale), and social support (Friend, Family, and Spouse/Partner Support scales).

Results: Hierarchical regression analyses were conducted to determine whether ethnicity moderated the association between family cohesion and parental depression. A significant effect for cohesion emerged (B = -.49, p < .05); however, the ethnicity X cohesion interaction was non-significant. We also examined whether child symptom severity, social support, optimism, and benefit finding were predictors of family cohesion and whether ethnicity moderated the associations. Results indicated that ethnicity was a significant moderator of the association between spouse/partner support and family cohesion (B = -.293, p < .05). Spouse/partner support was positively associated with family cohesion and this association was stronger in Caucasian families. A similar effect was found for the association between family support and family cohesion.

Conclusions: Previous research has found family cohesion to be important for Hispanic families. In the present study, however, we found that family cohesion was associated with depression for both Hispanic and Caucasian parents. In addition, social support from the parent’s immediate and extended family was associated with heightened levels of family cohesion, but the effect was stronger for Caucasian parents. It is possible that cultural differences in the perception of disability may explain the results found in the present study. The findings of this study have important clinical implications with respect to understanding cultural differences in managing parental well-being.

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