Author

Divia Pillay

Date of Award

2010

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science Honours

School

School of Psychology and Social Sciences

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dr Sonya Girdler

Second Advisor

Helen Leonard

Third Advisor

Marie Collins

Fourth Advisor

Jenny Bourke

Abstract

Background: Raising a child with an intellectual disability can present parents with many challenges. Factors that have been demonstrated to positively impact on the mental and physical health of parents of children with an intellectual disability include greater clinical, family and social supports. One avenue of support that has been rarely explored is the role of spirituality and organised religion in supporting parents of children with an intellectual disability. Aim: The aim of this literature review was to investigate the role of spirituality and organised religion in the lives of parents of children with intellectual disability, specifically Down syndrome. Methods: Electronic searches of Web of Science, Psychlnfo, Medline, Scopus and CINAHL and manual searches of reference lists identified relevant articles from 1984 to 2010. Studies were included if the topic involved one or more of the following main search terms: Down syndrome, spirituality, religion, support, coping, family supports, psychosocial factors and acceptance. Articles were restricted to reviewed literature published in English. A narrative analysis of this research was conducted. Results: For many parents of children with a disability, spiritual beliefs and organised religion were both beneficial as a stabilising force, helping parents to cope with psychological and physical stressors of parenting. Furthermore this literature review highlighted that due to its personal nature, spirituality is perceived a stronger source of support than organised religion by parents of children with intellectual disabilities. Conclusion: This review highlights the need for further research to explore the role of spirituality and organised religion as a coping resource for parents of children with intellectual disabilities. This mixed methods study explored the role of spirituality and organised religion in supporting the mental health of mothers of children with Down syndrome. Additionally we described the level of anxiety, stress, depression and mental health of parents of children with Down syndrome and examined correlations between the two concepts. Finally this study obtained first hand, subjective accounts of the experience of having a child with Down syndrome and the major stressors perceived. Methods: The quantitative study used data collection from 250 parents who answered the 2004 Down Syndrome Needs Options and Wishes (NOW) questionnaire. This study aimed to explore the role of spirituality and organised religion in supporting the mental health of parents of children with Down syndrome using the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale and SF-12 Mental Component Score (MCS) as outcome measures. Regression was used to describe: the effect of the predictor variables on the outcome variables and the impact of spirituality on the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale and SF-12 (MCS). The qualitative study employed in-depth interviews to explore the personal experience of spirituality and organised religion in the lives of mothers of children with Down syndrome. A homogenous sample of eight mothers of children aged between 7 and 12 years of age with Down syndrome were recruited through the Down syndrome NOW study to gain firsthand accounts on the role of spirituality and organised religion as a support system and the major stressors perceived. Results: Quantitatively spirituality and organised religion had little effect in supporting the mental health of mothers of children with Down syndrome. However, qualitatively spirituality was described as a stronger, dynamic source of support in coping with stressors and life's challenges associated with raising a child with an intellectual disability than organised religion. Additionally it was found that the most significant child predictors of mental health were the child's behavioural difficulties, the child's level of everyday functionality, health conditions and total number of siblings. The maternal factors included; financial stress, working status and marital status. Conclusion: Findings from this study will contribute to the understanding of spirituality and organised religion as a support mechanism to guide health professionals and service providers concerned with meeting the holistic needs of parents, families and children with Down syndrome.

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