Defining Resilience in Families Living with Neurodevelopmental Disorder: A Preliminary Examination of Walsh’s Framework

  • Elizabeth Leone
  • Diana Dorstyn
  • Lynn Ward


Family interaction and support play a critical role in raising a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder (NDD) of brain function and growth. Although the negative effects of NDD on the family, including parental distress, have been widely studied less is known about the structure of resilience in these families, or their capacity to cope. The current study attempts to quantitatively define this complex construct, with reference to Walsh’s (2003) Family Resilience Framework. Results from an online survey of 155 female caregivers of children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, specific learning or communication difficulty highlighted the individual and combined contribution of three family processes—belief systems, organisational patterns and communication skills—to resilience. Regression analysis revealed that parental distress, directly associated with problematic communication patterns, was a significant (p < .01) impediment to family resilience. Facilitators of resilience included positive belief systems (i.e. positive perceptions of a child’s disability and general outlook) along with a parental organisational style characterised by high nurturing. However, the combined contribution of these variables accounted for only 35 % of the variance in resilience scores, suggesting that further work is needed to operationalise the resilience process. Large-scale and longitudinal data will also help to determine resilience trajectories over time and in different family contexts.


Families Resilience Distress Autism Disability Neurodevelopmental 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of Adelaide Human Research Ethics Committee and the NHMRC National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research.

Informed Consent

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

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no potential conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Psychology, Faculty of Health SciencesUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

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