A Qualitative Analysis of Psychological Strengths in Parents of Children with Autism Using the Five-Minute Speech Sample

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 12, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
A. L. Maughan and J. A. Weiss, Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background: Despite growing recognition of the importance of taking a strengths-based approach to understanding families of children with autism (Bayat, 2007), research continues to focus on identifying, quantifying, and remediating deficits (Burnham Riosa et al., 2017). This negative focus extends to understanding parent-child relationships and parent functioning. The Autism-Specific Five-Minute Speech Sample (AFMSS) is a validated measure for this population that focuses on assessing expressed emotion in family members of children with autism (Benson, Daley, Karlof, & Robison, 2011). Expressed emotion in parents is an indicator of the degree of negative emotionality that is displayed when parents describe their child and the relationship they have with them (Morris, Silk, Steinberg, Myers, & Robinson, 2007). In contrast, the psychological processes of acceptance, mindful awareness and psychological flexibility, core concepts in the framework of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT; Hayes, Luoma, Bond, Masuda, & Lillis 2006), have been shown to be useful for understanding perspectives of parents of children with other chronic conditions (McCracken & Gauntlett-Gilbert, 2011). These strengths-based concepts in ACT may be relevant to observing positive change in parents of children with autism following intervention.

Objectives: The aim of this study is to assess change in parents’ perceptions of their children with autism following participation in therapy, using the strengths-based concepts of acceptance, mindful awareness, and psychological flexibility.

Methods: Sixty parents of children with autism participated in cognitive behaviour therapy with their children. The AFMSS procedure, in which a parent is asked to speak about their child and the relationship they have with them for five uninterrupted minutes, was completed prior to and immediately post-intervention. Speech samples will be qualitatively analyzed using the interpretive phenomenological analysis approach (IPA; Smith, Jarman & Osborn, 1999), in which narrative data is coded for insights into participants’ experiences and perspectives, and codes are catalogued and explored for themes. This approach will be used to identify strengths-based themes, including those related to acceptance, mindful awareness and psychological flexibility, and to observe and describe differences between pre- and post-intervention samples.

Results: Speech samples have been collected and transcribed, and qualitative data analysis is ongoing. Based on early data collection, emerging codes that can be identified related to ACT processes include: flexibly reframing their child’s difficulties; awareness and insight into their child’s emotions; and celebrating small improvements. These codes will continue to be catalogued and mined for overarching patterns or themes as analysis continues.

Conclusions: Results will be discussed in the context of evaluating interventions using a more positive understanding of strengths and change in a population whose experiences are typically only considered from a deficits perspective.