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Coping processes revealed in the stories of mothers of children with autism Marshall, Vaughan

Abstract

There is copious research evidence of the many stresses faced by mothers of children with autism. Missing from the literature, however, is an understanding of the ways in which coping is revealed in the content and structure of stories told by mothers of children with autism. The primary research question addressed in this study, therefore, was "What evidence of coping may be found in the content and form of life stories told by mothers of children with autism?" The first sub-question was "What do stories of isolated stressful episodes add to our understanding of the coping efforts of mothers of children with autism?" Finally, because I was interested in meaning-making coping, and goals are integral to meaning-making, I also included a second sub-question: "How do participants construct the interplay between life goals and coping efforts?" Five mothers of children with autism participated in this study. They first told their life stories, focusing on the place of autism in their lives. Later they told stories of recent stressful episodes, and co-engaged in analysis by providing titles for their stories and metaphors for themselves as actors in the stories. I undertook Holistic-Form analysis (Lieblich, Tuval-Mashiach, & Zilber, 1998) to examine manifestations of coping in the macrostructures of stories. I also undertook Categorical-Content analysis (Lieblich et al., 1998) to examine what mothers said they did or thought in order to cope with autism. Cognitive coping strategies were particularly apparent in the life stories, which tended to focus on the emotional and cognitive journeys of the storytellers. Analysis of the content of stories of coping episodes added information about behavioural coping strategies employed in specific situations. Analysis of form, particularly of the structure of the life stories, yielded strategies the mothers employed to make meaning of autism in their lives. Examination of goals in relation to stress and coping revealed that what the mothers were striving toward affected the kinds of stresses they were willing to endure, the kinds of cognitive frames put around stressful experiences, and, to some extent, the kinds of coping strategies they employed.

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