BACKGROUND: There have been few reports of the world views, values and priorities of families of children with autism or Down syndrome, despite the fact that family belief systems are considered to be among the most important factors affecting the adaptation and resilience of families. METHODS: Transcripts from three focus groups involving 19 key informants (15 parents of children with autism or Down syndrome, and 4 service providers) were analysed using qualitative methods. RESULTS: The themes indicated that raising a child with a disability can be a life-changing experience that spurs families to examine their belief systems. Parents can come to gain a sense of coherence and control through changes in their world views, values and priorities that involve different ways of thinking about their child, their parenting role, and the role of the family. Although parents may grapple with lost dreams, over time positive adaptations can occur in the form of changed world views concerning life and disability, and an appreciation of the positive contributions made by children to family members and society as a whole. Parents' experiences indicate the importance of hope and of seeing possibilities that lie ahead. CONCLUSIONS: The information from this study may be used to provide families with an advance understanding of the changes in beliefs that they might undergo, and assists service providers in providing individualized and family-centred services and supports to families.
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