"A breath of fresh air" A critical exploration into the work of autism support groups in Scotland from the perspective of the parent
(2013) "A breath of fresh air" A critical exploration into the work of autism support groups in Scotland from the perspective of the parent, no. 117.
This research looks at the extent to which support groups are important to parents of children with autism in Scotland. The use of phenomenology and semi-structured interviews enabled the researcher to gain an insight into the lives of participants, exploring their thoughts, feelings and experiences. A total of three participants were recruited for this study, each providing very rich and valuable data. Through studying Erving Goffman's (1968) work on stigma, the researcher was able to better understand the negative interactions which parents of children on the autistic spectrum are often forced to engage in whilst in the public sphere. Alongside the theme of stigma, five other themes were communicated to the researcher; stress; dealings with professionals; the education system; hopes and fears for the future and the effects of autism upon siblings. The semi-structured interviews with participants revealed ways in which the siblings of children with autism also suffer; particularly from feelings of stress and embarrassment indicating that more support is needed for these individuals as well as their parents. Interestingly, this study found that although support groups are an important resource for many parents of children with autism, some parents' perceptions are different with some parents preferring to use support groups as a form of respite or somewhere for their children to play happily and free from judgement, as opposed to somewhere to speak about their struggles and seek comfort. A critical analysis of both the current literature and the data collected in this study found that teachers, doctors and other professionals tend to view children with support needs as a label, rather than unique and individual agents. Subsequently, it could be argued that more training needs to be implemented in order to strengthen communication between parents and professionals. This dissertation draws upon the work of Didi Khayatt (2002), examining the notion of a 'third space' and relating it to autism spectrum disorders. Additionally, it could be suggested that in order for social change to occur, it is necessary to adjust society's attitudes and perceptions to autism. Critically, this dissertation provides evidence that more positive attitudes could be engendered in future generations through an increased focus on the education of all young children on difference and disability in schools. This would help to decrease the feelings of stigmatisation and social exclusion experienced by parents of children diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder such as those in this study.