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Issues Compr Pediatr Nurs. 2010;33(3):149-63. doi: 10.3109/01460862.2010.498331.

Parental beliefs about cause and course of their child's autism and outcomes of their beliefs: a review of the literature.

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Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities, Department of Occupational Therapy, Warner Graduate School of Education, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York 14642, USA.



This article provides a review of the literature on beliefs that parents of children with autism hold, with a focus on their beliefs on the cause and course of the disorder. Research on the outcomes of their beliefs also was reviewed.


Medline, PsychInfo, Nursing@Ovid and PubMed were searched from 1995 through 2009 using the keywords autism, autistic disorder, beliefs, culture, parents, attitudes, and perceptions. Additional articles were identified through Google Scholar and from references in related articles. Thirteen articles were retrieved and reviewed.


It was found in the review that parents hold a wide variety of beliefs about the cause of their child's autism, including genetic factors, events surrounding the child's birth, and environmental influences in the early childhood period. Some parents continue to attribute their child's autism to immunizations, although more recent studies suggest the frequency may be decreasing. Some parents are pessimistic about their child's future while others are hopeful that new strategies will be developed. Some trust that society will become more accepting of their child's idiosyncrasies. Parents' beliefs about the cause of their child's autism have been found to have an impact on decisions regarding future health care, family planning, and maternal mental health. The link between parental beliefs and their choices for interventions has not yet been empirically explored.


Research on the impact of cultural beliefs specific to autism is very limited, although studies focusing on other developmental disorders suggest that it is influential. The importance of exploring parental beliefs during the process of treatment planning is discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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