Academic journal article Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology

Parental Perceptions and Preschoolers with Disabilities: An Investigation of Response Variations

Academic journal article Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology

Parental Perceptions and Preschoolers with Disabilities: An Investigation of Response Variations

Article excerpt

Family-centered services represent a philosophical hallmark in early childhood intervention. Advancing from earlier child-centered, professional-driven notions, legislative mandates emphasizing full family involvement via the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have been embraced by the early intervention field. Practices involving identification of family strengths, emphasizing family choice regarding services, addressing child and family needs, and collaborating with families are now advocated in the field of early intervention (Bruder, 2000).

The rationale for this philosophical progression emanates from the basic principle that families play a crucial role in child development. Best practices in early intervention capitalize on family involvement and consider family strengths, priorities, and concerns in assessments and service plans (Childress, 2004). Family-centered services are nurtured through the collaborative relationship between early intervention professionals and families (Dinnebeil, Hale, & Rule, 1999). As described by Bailey et al. (1998), "the essence of a family- centered approach lies in the relationship that exists between parents and professionals" (p. 314).

Variables Influencing Collaboration

A variety of factors contributing to the productivity of the relationship have been identified. Characteristics of early intervention professionals described by parents as significantly impacting interactions have included beliefs about the child with a disability, ability to empathically communicate, and attitudes demonstrated toward the family. Other positive variables include family centeredness and a focus on family strengths (Dinnebeil & Rule, 1994; Dunst, Johanson, Rounds, Trivette, & Hamby, 1992).

McWilliam, Tocci, and Harbin (1998) investigated beliefs and behaviors of service providers that communicate and enhance family centered practice in relationships with parents. One theme that emerged involved the "willingness to orient services to the whole family, rather than just to the child" (p. 213). In addition, positive expectations and sensitivity to families were identified.

While family-centeredness ideals pervade the literature, Bruder (2000) asserts that, in practice, barriers exist to implementation of this philosophy. Perceptions and attitudes were highlighted as a major impediment. Bruder (2000) stated, "the attitudes of those in early intervention who still see themselves as 'expert' and the family as 'client' (p. 117) perhaps represent the most important obstacle.

Beliefs professionals have about parental responses to a child's disability represent a specific attitude that may impede family-centered practice. Even though family response literature supports varying responses, a common stereotype is that having a child with a disability results in family distress (Beckman, 1991). Some studies have supported distress as evidenced by significant anxiety, depression, and disengagement in comparison to control groups; however, other investigations have discovered positive adaptation, coping, and adjustment (Flaherty & Masters-Glidden, 2000; Judge, 1998; Scorgie & Sobsey, 2000). Variability has also existed in investigations of the relationship between parental stress and child age (Flynt & Wood,1989), severity of disability (Hodapp, Ly, Fidler, & Ricci, 2001; Orr, Cameron, Dobson, & Day, 1993), and type of disability (Cameron, Dobson, & Day, 1991; Hauser-Cram, Warfield, Shonkoff, & Krauss, 2001). Still other inquiries have yielded varying levels of parental stress (Pipp-Siegel, Sedey, Yoshinaga-Itano, 2002; Sirbasku-Cohen, 2001), marital distress (Nelson, Ruch, Jackson, Bloom, & Part, 1992), depression and psychological distress (Dunn, Burbine, Bowers, & Tantleff-Dunn, 2001), and stress in family relationships (Gray, 2002) within families of children with disabilities. Again, a continuum of response to parenting a child with a disability is implicated given variability of results. …

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