Noriko Porter is an Instructor in the Department of Human Development at Washington State University. Before immigrating to the United States, she worked as an Associate Professor in the Early Childhood Education Department at Hokuriku Gakuin College in Japan. She received a Ph.D. from the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Missouri, Columbia in 2008. Her current research interests are cross-cultural parenting, autism, and early childhood development. In 2012 she received the research excellence award from the Japan Society of Research on Early Childhood Care and Education for a manuscript based on early intervention programs for her son who is a child with autism. Since June 2013, she has worked as a visiting scientist, receiving training from Dr. Katherine Loveland at the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences in the University of Texas Medical School, Houston.
The increase of autism is a global phenomenon, yet the effect of autism on families is poorly understood. Having a child with a disability influences quality of life for all family members, especially parents, and may have a far-ranging impact through re-direction of social and economic resources in the family and society. Parents expend intensive time and energy caring for their children with autism, but also bear a uniquely heavy psychological burden. Research in industrialized countries indicates mothers of children with autism experience severe psychological stress, much greater than that of parents of typical children or children with other disabilities. However, current public policies do not adequately address the complex needs and well-being of mothers of children with autism. Despite increasing research on stress in families of children with autism, very few studies have examined this problem across cultures. International collaborative research on autism will advance understanding of cultural differences affecting parenting, which may lead to more sensitive, informed and culturally calibrated practice to support families of children with autism. The goal of this study is to evaluate associations among culture, child and parent characteristics, and stress in mothers of children with autism in Japan and the U.S. The Japanese cultural orientation toward collectivism and conformity contrasts with the U.S. orientation toward individualism and diversity. Parental practice also differs in promotion of closeness (Japan) verses autonomy (U.S.). Previous cross-cultural studies suggest that differences in parenting norms/beliefs influence mothers' view of child behavior, affecting stress. Forty U.S. and forty Japanese mothers of children with autism aged 2 to 12 will be recruited from the Houston and Tokyo areas. Mixed-method research will be used to test the following hypotheses (1) The child's degree of problem behaviors and core autism behaviors is more significantly associated with parenting stress levels for Japanese mothers than for U.S. mothers; (2) Maternal perception of lacking attachment to their child is more significantly associated with parenting stress levels for Japanese mothers than for U.S. mothers; and (3) Mothers' parenting stress will be influenced by their own beliefs about ideal motherhood for both countries. Converging quantitative and qualitative data will be collected: maternal self-report measures to examine the relationship among child and parent characteristics, culture and maternal stress; semi-structured interviews to examine mothers' experience of parenting. Analyses of co-variance (ANCOVA) will be used to examine stress levels of mothers between the U.S. and Japan. Regression analysis will be performed to determine if child and parent characteristics (e.g., child problem behavior, attachment) will predict maternal stress for each country. Interview data will be analyzed through a grounded theory approach: emergent themes are developed by reading data, labeling categories, and establishing relationships through comparison and contrast. Finally, quantitative and qualitative data will be compared and synthesized for an overall interpretation. Results will identify factors that differentially increase stress in mothers of children with autism in these two cultures. Our findings will provide new information essential to the design of policies to develop culturally-appropriate supports for families of children with autism.