Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy

How Do Children's Challenges to Function and Participation Impact Maternal Stress?

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy

How Do Children's Challenges to Function and Participation Impact Maternal Stress?

Article excerpt


Mothers of children with suspected developmental coordination disorder qualitatively report high levels of parenting stress. The parent-child relationship impacts on opportunities for participation available to the child and family. This study used standardised measures to quantify maternal stress and to examine factors that may be associated with parenting stress (social support and coping child diagnosis, motor skills and sensory processing). Maternal stress was high but not associated with child motor impairment. Instead, stress was correlated with child sensory processing problems, maternal social support and coping. Mothers are at risk and concerns about the child should be considered in the context of family need.

Key words

Autistic disorder, mothers, motor skills disorder.


Allen, S. & Knott, F. (2016). How do children's challenges to function and participation impact maternal stress? New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63 (2), 29-37.

Occupational therapists consider environmental factors in their holistic assessment of children with developmental motor concerns and their families. This usually includes environmental factors that impact the child's ability to participate in everyday activities (College of Occupational Therapists 2008). Such factors encompass the physical characteristics of the environment as well as relationships with significant caregivers. The International Classification of Function, Disability, & Health, Children and Young People (World Health Organization, 2007) identified physical and emotional support along with the attitudes of immediate family as key factors in a child's environment. A lack of physical or emotional support or negative attitude may act as a barrier, whereas positive physical and emotional support and/or a positive attitude can facilitate the child's ability to maximise participation in daily activities.

Child and family focused therapy services would consider the capacity of the mother to support the child to participate. Conversely, maternal stress would be a barrier to emotional support and positive attitude. An understanding of the mechanisms influencing maternal stress may help to optimise the environmental context of the child.

Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is a condition marked by significant impairment in the development of motor coordination, which interferes with academic achievement and/or activities of daily living (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). The disorder affects 1.8 % of children living in the United Kingdom (UK), with an additional 3.1 % 'at risk' (Lingam, Hunt, Golding, Jongmans, & Edmond, 2009). It is well known that DCD leads to a poor social, psychological and motor outcome (Blank, Smits-Engelsman, Polatajko, & Wilson, 2012). DCD is also linked to both physical and social limits on participation (Engel-Yeger cited in Cairney, 2015) and it is known that children with this condition present significant challenges to education and health services (Cermak & Larkin, 2002). However, the impact of DCD on the family is under-researched.

Parenting a child with neurodevelopmental disorder is known to be challenging and may result in ineffective parenting, fewer positive interactions, and repeated attempts to discipline the child for recurring behaviour leading to feelings of frustration and low self-efficacy (Garner et al., 2011). Understanding more about stress levels and the factors that impact on mothers will assist the development of effective family support strategies and may improve the long-term participation and occupational choices of children and their families. Qualitative reports have identified that DCD has an overwhelming impact on family life and that families are required to support children and adolescents for longer, and more intensively, than is usual for typically developing children (Novak, Lingam, Coad, & Emond, 2012). …

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