The diagnosis of any disability in a child has a great impact on the family but families respond differently. Past research has often focused on the negative effects on parents’ mental health (Bishop et al., 2007) but recently there has been a shift towards exploring positive effects of raising a child with disabilities (Blacher & Baker, 2007). However, very little research has explored how the family’s culture helps, or makes it more difficult for parents to cope with their child's disorder. Cultures vary in their attitudes toward disability, their concepts of what is typical and atypical, the social acceptance or stigma involved and so on (Welterlin & LaRue, 2007). These differences may influence parents’ experience of raising a child with autism.
In this study, we used two well researched cultural schemes based on nationality, from the field of social-cultural/organizational psychology: (a) Hofstede’s cultural dimensions – Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Individualism and Masculinity; and (b) Schwartz’s transnational cultural groupings – Western European countries, English speaking countries, Latin American countries, Eastern European countries, South Asian countries, Confucian influenced countries, and African and Middle Eastern countries.
The purpose of this study was to examine families’ culture in relation to: parenting distress, positive change, knowledge of autism, and perceptions of child progress. There were two research questions: 1. What is the extent of relationship between scores on Hofstede’s four cultural dimensions and the dependent variables? and 2. Are there differences in the dependent variables across families grouped according to Schwartz’s cultural groups?
File review of over 180 participants has been conducted. Toronto, Canada is a multicultural city and we have assessed children of immigrant families from over 25 different countries. Families were grouped based on the parent’s country of birth using Hofstede’s and Schwartz’s methods. Child measures included: cognitive skills (Mullen Scales of Early Learning; Mullen, 1995), adaptive skills (Vineland-II; Sparrow, Cicchetti & Balla, 2005), and severity of autism (CARS; Schopler, Reichler & Renner, 1988). The dependent measures were based on parent questionnaires incorporating measures of stress (the Parental Distress subscale of the Parenting Stress Index- Short Form; Abidin, 1995), positive impact (Scorgie & Sobsey, 2000), knowledge of autism and behavioral intervention (Solish & Perry, 2008), and perception of child progress (Solish & Perry, 2008).
Data analysis is under way. Correlations will be reported to address Question 1 regarding the relationship between the cultural dimensions and the four dependent variables. To answer Question 2, first child variables and socioeconomic status will be examined to see whether they differ across groups, in which case they will be included as covariates in subsequent analysis. Then, oneway ANOVAs or ANCOVAs will be reported comparing the various subgroups on the same four dependent variables.
Conclusions will focus on whether the analysis show any relations or differences between cultural groups, and an inference about the possible reasons underlying this. The results may be used to inform changes in training culturally sensitive professionals who deal with families from diverse backgrounds.