Date of Conferral
Caregivers of individuals with autism often report increased levels of stress and a lack of social support to help them cope with various stressors as they provide care. Without coping mechanisms or social support, as individuals with autism present various behavioral and emotional challenges, caregivers can experience a decline in well-being. Thus, the purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the processes that caregivers of individuals between the ages of 9-18 diagnosed with autism use to cope with stress and social support in Southeast Georgia. Grounded theory was used to describe the perceived thoughts caregivers have about stress and well-being and how they gain control over their situation through adaptation. Individual semi-structured interviews were used to collect data from 20 caregivers of children (ages 9-18) with at least a moderate to severe autism spectrum disorder. Findings reveal that caregivers used problem-focused coping in the identification of stressors that impacted them physically and emotionally. The degree to which stress impacts a caregivers' life is dependent on the way caregivers respond to the stressor. Because coping strategies play a role in response to stress, those strategies led to the development of a theoretical model that aim to understand the processes that generate a response to stress. Data were coded and organized into themes using open and axial coding procedures; a theory was then generated using selective coding, yielding a theory of caregiver coping processes. The improved understanding of the challenges that caregivers face as they provide care for individuals with autism holds potential to minimize the negative outcomes of stressors and harness the potential for more positive coping mechanisms to improve caregiver well-being and promote positive social change.