Spirituality in Latino Families of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Research on families of children with developmental disabilities indicates that parents use spirituality to conceptualize and to cope with their child’s diagnosis (Skinner, Rodriguez & Bailey, 1999). This is especially true in Latino families, whose cultural contexts often emphasize spiritual beliefs (Herrera et al., 2009). Latino families may use spiritual methods of conceptualizing more than non-Latino families due to societal oppression, the colonization process, immigration status, socioeconomic factors and educational factors (Zea, Quezada & Belgrave, 1994). However, little is known about how spirituality is conceptualized among Latino families of child with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
The current study explores how Latino parents of children with ASD use spirituality to make sense of their child’s disability.
For the current study, Latino parents (N=34; 59% Mexican, 15% Puerto Rican, 24% other) of children diagnosed with ASD (82% autism, 12% PDD-NOS, 3% Asperger’s, 3% unsure) between the ages of 2-22 were recruited from community organizations . In-person interviews with the parents were done in the participants’ homes. Interviews asked parents about autism services, family characteristics, and cultural beliefs. Using content analysis, research assistants read and coded parents’ responses to the question “Some people think that having a child with an illness is a message from God, what do you think?”. They also considered excerpts which referred to “God”, “blessing” or any reference to spirituality.
Overall, 53% of families reported attending religious services at least a few times per year. In the content analysis, four main themes emerged: Child is a positive sign from God; Child is not a sign from God; Child is a negative sign from God; and Unsure/Other. The majority of parents believed that their child was a positive sign from God including, beliefs that their child was a blessing from God, part of God’s plan, a test from God, or a sign from God that the parent was special. Only five parents believed that their child was a punishment from God. Other parents believed that having a child with a disability was not an act of God, but an act of nature. Some parents said that the larger culture believed that having a child with a disability was a punishment but they markedly disagreed with that notion.
Most parent responses were consistent with themes found in other literature. For example, Latino parents in other studies conceptualize their child with a disability as a gift from God, a blessing, part of God’s plan, a test from God, or a punishment from God. Novel themes found in this study are ways in which parents conceptualize their child in non-spiritual ways, including conceptualizing their child with a disability as an act of nature instead of an act of God. Furthermore, the recognition and disagreement with what other Latino parents believe about culture is a novel theme that warrants further research.