UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The development of peer social support networks among families of children with neurodevelopmental and intellectual disabilities attending physical activity programs Chakraborti, Michelle


According to the World Health Organization, “family” is an important contextual factor for childcare and development of children with neurodevelopmental and intellectual disabilities (NDID). However, caregiving-related stressors result in multiple challenges, contributing towards the families’ social isolation and distress. This further affects families’ quality of life, mental health and ultimately childcare. Peer support networks represent established strategies for social integration; however, families are often unable to attend these networks due to unavailable time and childcare resources. Therefore, ways to socially integrate families, while simultaneously supporting the child are warranted. Community-based adapted physical activity programs (PA programs) represent a promising approach. This thesis investigated the potential of peer support network development at PA programs, their impact on the families’ quality of life, resilience and empowerment and relative importance compared to other peer support networks. A mixed-methods approach was implemented where quantitative information for the cross-sectional study was collected using standardized scales on perceived social support, family quality of life, resilience, and self-efficacy and qualitative information was collected using semi-structured interviews and ethnographic observation. Fifty families having a child with NDID participated from twenty-two programs across British Columbia. Interviews demonstrated network formation was facilitated by the presence of families at the PA program that provided them with valuable time to interact with other parents. The regularity of the programs’ schedule, and its duration were important factors. Moreover, the presence of children with similar abilities facilitated the child’s friendship development, which appeared to be a motivation for parents to form networks. Parental networks developed in two ways, through their child’s friendship’s resulting in parental interactions and through direct parent-parent engagement on site. Emergent themes illustrated networks promoted families’ sense of community, offered emotional and informational support, helped families developing resiliency and empowered them. However, all these elements were not well-captured by the standard scales. Finally, seventy percent families ranked these PA-related networks as ‘important’ compared to other peer networks, as simultaneously, parents benefit from socialising while their child from activities. Overall, evidence demonstrated the unique benefit of these programs that potentially strengthen both families and children simultaneously. Ultimately, strengthened families deliver better childcare.

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