Julia Schiller, Meghan C. Towne, Rachel Epstein, Jennifer Karlin Thornton, Victoria Suslovitch
Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) is a rare, childhood-onset, multi-systemic, progressive condition. Parents of children with rare diseases like A-T are emotionally, socially, and psychologically impacted by the diagnosis. To examine the parental perspective of having a child with A-T, and to better understand how parents cope with an A-T diagnosis, we conducted 10 semistructured interviews. Thematic analysis using a phenomenological approach resulted in five themes: (1) Parental responsibilities change as the result of an A-T diagnosis, (2) An A-T diagnosis brings about shifts in identity for all family members, (3) Parental coping changes over time, (4) A-T parents experience continuous uncertainty and a lack of stability, and (5) A-T parents receive support from various people, places, and resources. Many parents fostered resilience by adopting a present-centered and positive mindset about the impacts of the diagnosis. Parents also became A-T experts and used their knowledge to advocate for their children and help mentor other parents. Responses from parents indicated a need for providers to incorporate parental mental well-being check-ins to pediatric rare disease appointments and welcome parents as respected members of their children's care team. Genetic counselors are in a unique position to help coordinate complex care for children with A-T (and other rare diseases) and provide support to family members using the framework of family-centered care. This paper offers suggestions for expanding support and learning to cope with a difficult diagnosis for parents of children with rare diseases, specifically A-T, based on stories from parents of children with A-T.
Back to Journal of Genetic Counseling