Virtual communities for parents of children with special needs in Taiwan: Emotional support, information, and advocacy

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • I-Jung Lu

Abstract

This thesis is a case study of three virtual communities for parents of children with special needs in Taiwan. The main focus of this research was on understanding the role that virtual communities play in providing support for parents. This study addressed the following research questions: How do virtual communities provide support for parents of children with special needs in Taiwan? What motivates Taiwanese parents of children with special needs to search for support through virtual communities? How does the support provided through virtual communities impact the relationship between Taiwanese parents of children with special needs and professionals? This thesis constructs an analytical framework that helps in understanding the concept of support in virtual communities for parents of children with special needs. Employing this framework identified three broad types of support: informational support, advocacy, and emotional support. In this study, informational support included parenting skills, advice, and access to services; advocacy referred to articulating needs and rights; and emotional support included solidarity, increased self-esteem, acceptance, and affirmation. All three virtual communities were established by parents; two are managed by parents, and one is managed by a professional. Web-based observations were conducted in each virtual community from November 2014 to December 2015. Semi-structured interviews were held with 14 parents, 7 professionals, and 6 administrators and concentrated on experiences of, and motivations for, seeking and providing support through virtual communities. The analytical framework was used to identify broad themes in the data. A thematic analysis was employed to look across the cases to identify commonalities and differences, and finally, a systematic analysis borrowing from social network analysis was used to map the interactions among the participants. The main findings of this study indicate that information and support related to parenthood and parenting skills was easily accessed through virtual communities. Parents were found to join together to share their experiences of parenting, comfort one another, and advocate for their needs through the virtual communities. The parents occasionally excluded members of the community to ensure that all members shared similar parenting values. In addition, parents are beginning to gain control of knowledge and their relationships with professionals through virtual communities. This paper’s main contributions to knowledge are as follows: (1) Virtual communities allow parents to redefine themselves in ways that they believe are publicly acceptable. (2) Parents are using virtual communities to exercise power to renegotiate their identity and obtain resources. (3) Parents are also starting to alter the power relationships between themselves and professionals.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date1 Aug 2018