Vicarious Futurity: Parents' Perspectives on Locating Strengths in Adolescents with Autism.

Jan Louise Hastie, Christine Stephens

Abstract


INTRODUCTION: Parents’ perspectives of strengths in adolescents with autism is the focus of this research. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have some of the best outcomes for cognition, communication and social development when they begin intensive treatment during early childhood. Most research in ASD has focussed on this part of the lifespan. This has tended to ignore the need for research that covers the whole lifespan including adolescence and adulthood, where extremely poor outcomes often emerge. Furthermore, from a reductionist bio-medical view of ASD, research into adolescence and adulthood has highlighted the maladaptive and pathological behaviour of people with ASD. 

METHODS:  This qualitative study provides a space for parents to identify the strengths of adolescents, aged from 13–19 years, with ASD. Parents with the experience of raising an adolescent with ASD were asked to take or gather five photographs that displayed the strengths of the adolescent. Data were generated through the discussion of the photographs between the parent(s) or primary caregivers of the adolescent and the researcher. Eight families, with nine adolescents were recruited for the research and 10 parents were interviewed. 

FINDINGS: The results of the research suggest that parents could identify strengths in adolescents with ASD and that these strengths were evaluated relative to diagnostic features of ASD or as supportive of daily family functioning. Furthermore, identifying adolescent strengths supported the parents’ hopes for the future, described as “vicarious futurity.”

CONCLUSION: This perspective poses a challenge to the common assumptions that ASD is associated with dysfunctional family life dominated by poor parental mental health, caregiver burden and research that objectifies those with ASD as being challenging. Identifying strengths points to more opportunities for success for an adolescent with ASD. 

 


Keywords


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), adolescents, strengths, family functioning

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11157/anzswj-vol31iss1id505

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