Family-focused autism spectrum disorder research: a review of the utility of family systems approaches

Autism. 2014 Apr;18(3):213-22. doi: 10.1177/1362361312472261. Epub 2013 Oct 3.


A family member with an autism spectrum disorder presents pervasive and bidirectional influences on the entire family system, suggesting a need for family-focused autism spectrum disorder research. While there has been increasing interest in this research area, family-focused autism spectrum disorder research can still be considered relatively recent, and there are limitations to the existing literature. The purpose of this article is to provide theoretical and methodological directions for future family-focused autism spectrum disorder research. In particular, this article proposes Family Systems approaches as a common theoretical framework for future family-focused autism spectrum disorder research by considering theoretical concepts such as Boundaries, Ambiguous Loss, Resilience and Traumatic Growth. We discuss reasons why these concepts are important to researching families living with autism spectrum disorder and provide recommendations for future research. The potential for research grounded in Family Systems approaches to influence clinical support services is also discussed.

Keywords: ambiguous loss; autism spectrum disorders; dyad; family functioning; family systems; holistic approaches; resilience; stress; subsystem; support services; traumatic growth.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive*
  • Family Relations*
  • Family Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Psychological Theory
  • Resilience, Psychological
  • Systems Theory