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Understanding carers' lived experience of stigma: the voice of families with a child on the autism spectrum

Background: Existing research suggests that there are several unique challenges associated with caring for a child on the autism spectrum. Despite a growing evidence base regarding autism spectrum disorders and their increasing prevalence, children on the autism spectrum and their families continue to perceive stigmatisation from various sources throughout the community. These perceptions of stigma can profoundly impact the quality of life of these children and their carers alike. This exploratory study sought to investigate carers' perceptions of stigma in caring for a child with high functioning autism. Methods: Fifteen carers from Sydney and the South Coast regions of New South Wales, Australia, participated in semi-structured interviews regarding their caring experiences and any perceived encounters with stigma. Findings: Four domains of stigmatising experiences were identified: (i) lack of knowledge, (ii) judgement, (iii) rejection and (iv) lack of support. These domains were each reported to exist in four main contexts: (i) school, (ii) public, (iii) family and (iv) friends. These domains and contexts established a framework which provided a detailed account of how and where carers felt stigmatised, including the suggestion of a stigmatising pathway through the four domains. The main contexts in which stigma was perceived also appeared to be related, with those carers who experienced stigma in one context being more likely to report similar experiences in other contexts. Conclusions: Any attempts to empower carers in the face of stigmatisation should therefore consider each of these domains, the pathway that connects them and the relationship between different social contexts. Through identifying this pathway, supportive services can be acutely aware of how carers may perceive potentially stigmatising experiences and therefore provide appropriate interventions or support for the relevant stage of the pathway.

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Type of Reference
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Journal article
Blackwell Scientific Publications
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Journal Titles
Health & Social Care in the Community
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