Date of Degree

2-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor(s)

Martin Ruck

Subject Categories

Developmental Psychology

Keywords

autism, coping, daily life, jewish, parenting, perceived religiosity

Abstract

This two-part study (a) explores the multi-dimensional aspects of religious and psychosocial experience of Jewish mothers and fathers with and without a child with autism; and (b) uses a multi-method design to examine the influence of perceived religious beliefs, ritual practices, and community context on daily life, parenting, and coping processes for these parents. The first study included 20 fathers and 34 mothers of typically developing children. Participants were affiliated with Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox Judaism. They completed three online q-sorts and five open-ended questions. The three q-sorts focused on the perceptions of religious beliefs, ritual practices, and community context on daily life, parenting, and coping. Results of the q-sorts highlighted five religious community contexts and seven daily life and coping statements that were most applicable to Jewish mothers and fathers. In addition, themes from participants' open-ended responses were used to explain why these statements were appropriate for this particular population.

The second study further examined previous results by comparing the responses of Jewish parents of children with and without autism. Participants included 12 mothers and eight fathers of children with autism and seven mothers and seven fathers of typically developing children. All parents completed online surveys and a phone interview. The surveys and interview questions addressed areas such as parental stress, coping, and the perceived influential role of religious beliefs, ritual practices, and community context.

Results highlighted some themes that were specific to Judaism, and other findings exemplified the perceived role of religious beliefs, ritual practices, and community context on parents of children with and without autism. Forty-five percent of all participants stated that their religious ritual practices connected them to their family history, cultural history, and Jewish identity. Participants with typically developing children discussed how the frequency with which they completed religious activities had either increased or stayed the same since their children were born. In contrast, mothers and fathers of children with autism described very different experiences as they tried to incorporate Judaism into their family life. Although these parents may not have been able to complete certain ritual practices, such as lighting Shabbat candles and participating in Passover Seders, their religious beliefs remained strong and shaped their Jewish identity. This study demonstrates the importance of: (1) clinicians' being sensitive and knowledgeable about the influential role of various religions and cultures on parents of children with special needs; and (2) professionals and clergy members building a relationship, so that together they can support parents on their journey toward acceptance of their child's diagnosis.

 
 

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