Academic journal article Family Relations

Trajectories of Stress among Parents of Children with Disabilities: A Dyadic Analysis

Academic journal article Family Relations

Trajectories of Stress among Parents of Children with Disabilities: A Dyadic Analysis

Article excerpt

Some level of parenting stress and daily hassle is considered normal or adaptive (Crnic, Gaze, & Hoffman, 2005), but parents of children with developmental disabilities (DD) tend to report greater than average levels of stress (Neece, Shulamite, & Baker, 2012). This is of particular concern given the deleterious effects of stress on general parent well-being and child emotional, social, and behavioral outcomes (Crnic et al., 2005). Few studies have examined change in parenting stress beyond early childhood, therefore little is known about how stress changes for parents, particularly fathers, during their child's middle childhood and adolescent years.

PARENTING STRESS

Stress is conceptualized in various distinct ways but is generally viewed as behavioral, emotional, and physiological reactions to an unpleasant event that affect well-being (Crnic & Low, 2002). Within Abidin's (1995) theoretical framework, parent-related stress represents the level of dysfunction in the parent-child system related to the parent's functioning in particular. Parent-related stress includes components of personality and pathology, such as the parent's subjective feelings of emotional availability to the child, parenting confidence, and investment in parenting (Abidin, 1995). Stress related to situational factors also contributes to parent-related stress in this framework, such as relationships with spouses or partners, perceptions of social isolation, health, and feelings of restriction in the parental role.

The majority of studies on stress among parents of children with DD have been cross sectional, with most extant longitudinal studies focusing on stress during early childhood. Several of these studies have reported stress to remain stable during the early years (e.g., Hanson & Hanline, 1990), consistent with studies of stress among parents of children without disabilities (Crnic et al., 2005). These findings may reflect the high and stable caregiving demands experienced by parents during their child's early years, regardless of their child's disability status. Other longitudinal and cross-sectional studies suggest that stress and daily hassles increase for parents, particularly mothers, of young children with DD (Gerstein, Crnic, Blacher, & Baker, 2009; Innocenti, Huh, & Boyce, 1993).

In line with these findings, several longitudinal studies have documented increases in stress for parents of children with DD through middle childhood. Hauser-Cram, Warfield, Shonkoff, and Krauss (2001) reported increases in parentrelated stress among parents of children with Down syndrome, motor impairment, and other developmental delays from age 3 to 10. Neece et al. (2012) reported perceptions of the child's impact on the family to decline from age 3 to 9 among parents of children with and without developmental delays.Once changes in behavior problems were accounted for, however, parents of children with delays showed increases in stress whereas parents of children without delays continued to show decreases in stress. Taken together, these studies suggest increases in stress from early to middle childhood may be unique to parents of children with DD.

To date, few if any studies have reported change in stress among parents of children with DD through adolescence. Adolescence may be a particularly stressful period of development for these parents, as they face challenges related to their teen's social isolation, puberty, and transition to adult services. The cumulative toll of caregiving may also lead to increased psychological strain, consistent with the wear-and-tear hypothesis (Townsend, Noelker, Deimling, & Bass, 1989). Conversely, parents of children with DD may adapt to caregiving demands over time and perceive lower parent-related stress during their child's adolescence. Declines in the severity of behavior problems in adolescence may also contribute to reductions in stress (Totsika & Hastings, 2009). …

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