Support needs of fathers of children with autism
Nadel, Stephen Christopher
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Fathers of children with autism experience many challenges in adapting to and coping with their roles (Carpenter & Towers, 2008; Fletcher, Vimpani, Russell, & Keatings, 2008; Naseef, 2002). Research on the various aspects of parental support needs, to date, has traditionally focused almost exclusively on the mothers (Flippin & Crais, 2011; Mallers, Charles, Neupert, & Almeida, 2010; Oelofsen & Richardson, 2006; Paynter, Davies, & Beamish, 2018; Potter, 2017a). This study sought to determine what fathers themselves cite as their support needs, and to describe those met and unmet. This mixed-methods study focused on fathers of children with autism who had verbal speech challenges, as determined by the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ; Rutter, Bailey, Berument, Lord, & Pickles, 2003). Participants were recruited via postings on nationwide autism organization web sites. Survey data were collected using an online questionnaire that included questions from existing validated instruments (the SCQ; The Fathers of Children with Developmental Challenges questionnaire, Ly & Goldberg, 2014; the Modified Convoy Model, Smith, Greenberg & Seltzer, 2012) and several generated by the researcher. Survey responses from 52 fathers were analyzed using descriptive and correlational methods. In addition, interviews were conducted with ten fathers. These data were analyzed by methods informed by grounded theory to identify themes. The results of this study largely supported existing research, although they gave a fuller picture of what fathers of children with autism believe that they need for support. Major themes found were that adjustment and raising children is difficult, adjustment is possible, and specific supports would have been helpful. The major supports suggested were (a) a specific early plan given by the time that they leave the initial diagnostic examination, (b) help with developing a useful support network of others who understand their situation, including peers, mentors and fathers-only support groups, and (c) receiving adequate respite to achieve breaks from childcare and time to be a couple with their spouses. Implications for practice are provided, based on the data collected.