Early childhood predictors of mothers' and fathers' relationships with adolescents with developmental disabilities

D B Mitchell, P Hauser-Cram
Journal of Intellectual Disability Research: JIDR 2010, 54 (6): 487-500

BACKGROUND: The importance of positive parent-adolescent relationships is stressed in research on adolescents, although very little is known about this relationship when a teen has developmental disabilities (DD). We investigated the relationships of adolescents with disabilities with their mothers and their fathers in order to answer a number of questions regarding these relationships. In particular, we asked: are there differences in the relationships of mothers and fathers with their adolescent with DD? Are there early childhood predictors of the parent-teen relationship and are those based on variables that are amenable to intervention? Finally, do these predictors differ for mothers and fathers?

METHODS: This study focused on the relationships of 72 mothers and 53 fathers with their 15-year-old teens with DD and their predictors from the early childhood years. Data were collected from parents through interviews and self-administered questionnaires, and from their children with disabilities through structured assessment when children were age 3 years and again at age 15 years.

RESULTS: Analyses indicated that both mother-teen and father-teen relationships were predicted by earlier parenting stress. The father-teen relationship was also predicted by early behaviour problems, but this relation was mediated by parenting stress. Socio-economic status, type of disability and the child's level of functioning were not predictive of later relationships between parents and teens. Mothers and fathers did not differ significantly in their reports of perceived positive relationships with their teens.

CONCLUSIONS: The findings from this study suggest two important points of potential intervention during the early intervention years. First, parenting assistance and support to reduce stress during the early childhood years can benefit both mothers and fathers. Second, helping families and children cope with and diminish problem behaviours is likely to yield multiple advantages for parents and children and deserves emphasis in early intervention and pre-school programmes.

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