Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Child and Family Studies

Major Professor

Vey M. Nordquist

Committee Members

John G. Orme, Brian K. Barber


Parents of children with developmental disabilities (DD) experience a wide variety of conditions and influences that may affect the parenting process. Researchers have long recognized that child characteristics in particular influence parental behaviors and have demonstrated the reciprocal nature of the parent-child relationship. The main purpose of this study was to identify some of the primary mechanisms by which young children with DD influence their parents’ behaviors. 10 couples (10 mothers, 10 fathers) raising young (birth to five years old) children with DD (e.g., hearing loss, autism, hypothyroidism) participated in the study. Following grounded theory methods, parents were interviewed using face-to-face audio-recorded semi-structured interviews that focused on their parenting behaviors and their experiences raising a child with DD. Parents described multiple categories related to the parenting process that highlighted the bidirectional influences between parents and children. The central categories that emerged from the analysis in relation to the overall parenting process were: life history (family of origin influences, other life experiences), child effects (characteristics of the disability, other child characteristics), formal social support (empowerment, homework, differentiating services), informal social support (family support, partner support, other parents), worry and stress (child’s future, child’s safety and wellbeing), and parenting behaviors (seeking normalcy, regulation, support). These categories are proposed to interrelate in a model illustrating the process by which parents and children with DD reciprocally influence one another. Limitations of this study are identified and implications of this model for future research and practice are discussed.

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