Positive and Negative Cognitive Appraisal of the Impact of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder on the Family: A South African Study
There is a large body of evidence that confirms that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) pose a range of distinct challenges to families, that parents and siblings experience high levels of stress, and that life is hard for these families. However, there is a risk that the dominant portrayal of a negative impact elicits an elaborate representation of the challenges associated with ASD, without considering any positives. Although researchers are yet to understand the full range of families’ experiences when raising a child with ASD, stress and coping theory and research have shown that families can perceive (or cognitively appraise) the impact of their child with a disability as both negative and positive.
We investigated the measurement of positive and negative cognitive appraisal in the context of childhood disability in a middle-income country, and describe how South African families positively and negatively appraise the impact on the family of raising a child with ASD.
We used the responses of 180 parents who completed the Family Impact of Childhood Disability Scale, which was part of the survey data gathered in a larger study that examined the perspectives of families of young children with ASD in South Africa. Participating families were recruited from 35 disability-related service providers in the Gauteng province. We assessed the reliability of the Family Impact of Childhood Disability Scale by calculating Cronbach’s alpha and the validity by using confirmatory factor analysis techniques. We conducted statistical analyses to determine the descriptive statistics.
Our findings indicate that the measurement of cognitive appraisal of the impact of ASD on the family was measured in a reliable and valid manner, thus contributing evidence to the universal properties of positive and negative appraisal when raising a child with a disability. Families rated the positive appraisals to have a more substantial impact on the family than the negative appraisals.
The findings of our study provide a cross-cultural perspective of the positive and negative cognitive appraisal of families who are raising a young child with ASD. Similar to other families in other countries, the participating families perceived the impact of a child with ASD as both positive and negative and revealed that parents are able to re-create positive meanings about their child with ASD. The positive findings portray the complexity of families and challenge the limitations and stigmatisation that society ascribes to raising a child with ASD. The research and clinical implications of these findings will be discussed.