Publication Date

Spring 2020

Degree Type

Doctoral Project

Degree Name

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)



First Advisor

Denise Dawkins

Second Advisor

Helda Pinzon-Perez

Third Advisor

Lisa Ann Walker-Vischer


Autism Spectrum Disorder, Parent Caregivers, Parents, Caregivers, Ambiguous Loss, Mental Health, Neurodevelopmental Disabilities


Parents of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) face challenges, stress, and mental health issues than parents of children without autism. Mental health experience of parents in underserved communities are not adequately studied. This qualitative study used a phenomenological approach to understand the mental health experience of eight parent caregivers residing in San Joaquin Valley, California. All parents reported the journey was stressful but not all parents described the point when they received the diagnosis as being more stressful than before and after the ASD diagnosis. Parents’ responses to the semi-structured interview that assesses for the degree of ambiguous loss indicate all parents have some degree of ambiguous loss in having a child diagnosed with ASD. Results of the thematic analysis using an inductive conventional approach yield four themes: mixed emotions, uncomfortable, helpless, and growth. In contrast to what is historically delivered to parents as a personal tragedy to have a child with ASD, the current study indicates there is a positive side to having a child with ASD. All parents in the study were offered no mental health support throughout their pre-diagnostic, diagnostic, and post-diagnostic journey. The study highlights the need for healthcare professionals and educators who work with parents of children diagnosed with ASD to offer parents’ mental health support throughout this journey.


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