Q methodological exploration of caregivers’ beliefs regarding their child’s Asperger’s Syndrome
Aims: The aims of this thesis were two-fold. First, to review the literature related to parental perceptions regarding their child’s Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and its effect on behavioural or emotional outcomes. Second, an empirical study aimed to explore parental beliefs about their child’s Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) through the application of Q methodology. Method: A systematic review of the literature was carried out to address the first aim. The review included 7 studies; 5 quantitative and 2 mixed methodology studies. For the second aim, Q methodology was used to examine parental beliefs among a purposeful sample of 21 main caregivers of a child with AS. This methodology is based on two techniques: the q-sorting process and q-factor analysis, and aims to explore the understandings those caregivers’ have of their child’s AS. A set of 51 statements, representing a diverse range of opinions and perspectives on AS, was developed from a variety of sources, including bibliographic databases and online parent forums. The Q sorting process involved caregivers’ arranging the statements on a quasi-normal distribution grid based upon their agreement with them. Results: Preliminary conclusions were drawn from a synthesis of papers included in the systematic review: parental beliefs regarding their child’s ASD affects their behaviour regarding treatment options and future immunisations, as well as their experience of depression, anxiety and self-efficacy. The empirical study revealed four narratives or factors from completed Q sorts: (1) AS in a positive light, (2) AS- the default diagnosis, (3) AS- what now? and (4) AS as society’s problem. Conclusions: The results from the systematic review and empirical study highlight a variety of beliefs held by parents of children with ASD. Although the implications of such beliefs were not explored in the empirical study, the results of the systematic review suggest that parental beliefs can have a significant impact on behavioural and psychological outcomes. Parental beliefs may, therefore, be an important target for clinical intervention within child and family services. It is acknowledged that further research is required to confirm and develop these findings.