[Thesis]. Manchester, UK: The University of Manchester; 2018.
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 paperĂ˘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.