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Title: The unicorn who came to stay and other stories… : mothers' experiences of having a child with autism with an imaginary friend
Author: Calver, Anna
ISNI:       0000 0004 2700 8897
Awarding Body: University of East London
Current Institution: University of East London
Date of Award: 2009
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This study explores mothers' experiences of having a child with autism with an imaginary friend. It is widely acknowledged that there is an increasing number of children identified with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and Asperger syndrome and many of these children are well placed in mainstream schools. However, children with high functioning autism and Asperger syndrome whose difficulties are more subtle are most at risk of being misunderstood. Their good intellectual ability and social interest can mask the difficulties they have in social understanding. At times these children can present with behaviours that are puzzling to their parents and teachers, such as talking aloud to an imaginary friend, prompting a concern that they may have an additional mental health difficulty. Although research into typically developing children's imaginary friends and parental perspectives has contributed to better understanding of this phenomena (Taylor 1999). To date there is little evidence of research into imaginary friends of children with differences in communication and language development as found in the autism spectrum. This study sets out to discover the meaning mothers make of their experiences of having a child with autism with an imaginary friend. Listening to mothers' stories has the potential to illuminate for Educational Psychologists, parental thoughts and feelings of this to date undocumented experience. Mothers' accounts may also add texture and detail to the theoretical knowledge base that Educational Psychologists have of autism. A qualitative methodology was chosen to address the exploratory research through semi-structured interviews. The study was located in England and involved interviews with 5 mothers including a pilot interview. The interview data was analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Two core clusters emerged that represented the key factors of mothers' experiences. The first cluster represented the internal impact of their experience, the thoughts and feelings that it engendered. The second cluster represented the impact that experiences in the social environment had on their day to day lives. The findings suggested that mothers experienced anxieties and fears about their children having an imaginary friend but this was also closely connected with their difficulty in coming to terms with their child's diagnosis. Mothers had ambivalent feelings about their child's relationship with their imaginary friend with particular concern that talking aloud to it at inappropriate times could be indicative of a mental health problem. However, mothers also demonstrated insight into the possible developmental significance of their child's imaginary friend. Difficulties in communication with partners and negative reactions to their child's behaviour in the social environment gave rise to feelings of loneliness and isolation for some mothers. Future areas for research were highlighted including the need for studies with both mothers and fathers to ascertain if the findings of this research are representative of other parents in similar situations. Case studies with children with autism to explore the developmental significance of imaginary friends was also suggested. The implications of the findings for educational psychology policy and practice were discussed.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.App.Ed.Ch.Psy.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available