Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 27, Issue 11, pp 3468–3481 | Cite as

Immigrant Families’ Perception of the Causes, First Manifestations, and Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Marie MillauEmail author
  • Mélina Rivard
  • Catherine Mello
Original Paper


Compared to families from their host country, families from immigrant backgrounds who have a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) tend to experience greater difficulties in accessing, using, and complying with intervention services for their child. This disparity may be partially accounted for by cultural differences in how families perceive the causes and symptoms of ASD as well as their treatment priorities. The present study sought to document these perceptions in immigrant families living in a Canadian city. Forty-five parents from Latin America, Africa, Western and Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, East Asia, and the Middle East participated in a semi-structured interview. These data were examined qualitatively through thematic analysis to first document all parents’ perceptions, then to contrast mothers’ and fathers’ responses, and finally to examine common themes as a function of country of origin. The most frequently mentioned causes of ASD were environmental factors such as vaccines and diet. Moreover, some participants did not know the cause of their child’s ASD. The majority of parents cited the absence of speech as one of the first symptoms noted in their child. Priorities for intervention varied: mothers tended to prioritize speech therapy, whereas fathers favored support in school. Taken as a whole, these findings highlight the need to implement informational programs for these families.


Autism spectrum disorder Parenting Perception Immigrant families Cultural beliefs 



The authors would like to thank all the research assistants for their assistance in data collection. The authors also wish to thank the participating rehabilitation centers (Centres de réadaptation en déficience intellectuelle et en troubles envahissant du développement de la Montérégie-Est et de Montréal) for their collaboration, as well as all the families who participated in the present study.

Author Contributions

M.M.: participated in the design and executed the study, analysed the data, and wrote the paper. M.R.: participated in the design and writing of the study, participated in the interpretation of findings, collaborated in the writing of the paper. C.M.: participated in the interpretation of findings, collaborated in the writing, translation, and editing of the final manuscript.


This work was supported by grants by the National Consortium for Research on Social Integration (CNRIS), and by the Service to Communities of the UQAM (Financial Assistance for Research and Creation Program).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of two institutional research committees (the Université du Québec à Montréal and the Joint Research Ethics Board for Public Rehabilitation Centers for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities and ASD in Québec) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

10826_2018_1180_MOESM1_ESM.docx (101 kb)
Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Université du Québec à MontréalMontrealCanada
  2. 2.The Pennsylvania State University, BerksReadingUSA

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