Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Barbara J. Myers


The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine the experience of parents and professionals living in a large metropolitan city in South India who were raising and/or working with a child with an autism spectrum disorder. The study explored the unique perspectives of parents and professionals regarding their beliefs and practices about autism, as well as the nature of the parent-professional relationship. Nineteen parents (all mothers) and 21 professionals were interviewed in person at four schools, an early intervention program, a hospital clinic, and a physician’s office. Themes were developed using qualitative software, and reliability was established through multiple coders and member checks. The meaning of health, illness, and disability vary greatly across cultures and across time. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model provided the conceptual paradigm to examine how broad cultural beliefs in the macrosystem, local services in the exosystem, parent- professional relationships in the mesosystem, and practices at home and school in the child’s microsystem worked together to explain autism spectrum disorders for this group of participants at this point in history. Four major themes emerged from the study that related to parents’ and professionals’ beliefs about causes of autism, expectations from treatments and services, nature of parent-professional partnerships in managing a child’s autism, and the current ‘state of things’ with regard to autism in one South Indian city. Across the themes, parents and professionals embraced two seemingly contradictory yet perfectly compatible cultural beliefs: a modern, scientific approach and a traditional Indian viewpoint. The treatments offered to children were similar to Western practices, with the addition of traditional Indian practices (e.g., yoga, Ayurvedic medicine, Siddha). Parents were mostly happy and comfortable with their interactions with the professionals. Parents valued collaboration and respect but also acknowledged that the relationship was vertical in nature, with professionals having more authority. Professionals’ assessment of their relationship with parents was influenced by their overall views about the families—positive or negative—which in turn was influenced by what they believed caused the child’s autism (e.g., genetics/scientific causes vs. cold parenting and departure from traditional family structure). Services for children with autism in India are rapidly expanding, though the vast majority of those affected are not diagnosed or treated.


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Date of Submission

August 2012

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