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Greenberg, & Crnic, 1983). The QRS-F is a 52-item self-report questionnaire specifically designed to mea- sure stress in families of children with disabilities (in-.

Parenting Stress and Social Support in Hearing Mothers of Deaf and Hearing Children: A Longitudinal Study Amy R. Lederberg Traci Golbach Georgia State University

This longitudinal study investigated the impact of child deafness on mothers’ stress, size of social networks, and satisfaction with social support. Twenty-three hearing mothers of deaf children and 23 hearing mothers of hearing children completed a series of self-report questionnaires when their children were 22 months, 3, and 4 years old. When children were 22 months, more mothers of deaf children reported pessimism about their children’s achieving self-sufficiency and concerns about their children’s communication abilities than did mothers of hearing children. When their children were 3 and 4 years old, mothers of deaf and hearing children did not differ in their reports of general parenting stress, as measured by the Parenting Stress Index (PSI). Likewise, mothers’ ratings of satisfaction with social support were not affected by child deafness, nor did they change developmentally. Mothers of deaf and hearing children did differ in the types of support networks utilized. Mothers of deaf 22-month-olds reported significantly larger professional support networks, while mothers of hearing children reported significantly larger general support networks across all child ages. Mothers’ feelings of stress and satisfaction with social support were very stable across the 2 years examined. The results suggest that most mothers of deaf children do not feel a high level of general parenting stress or dissatisfaction with their lives and support networks. However, mothers of deaf children are likely to feel stress in areas specific to deafness. In addition, because parenting stress was highly stable, special efforts should be made to intervene when mothers of deaf children are expressing high levels of stress. This research was partially supported by the March of Dimes Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. Portions of this work were presented at the Society for Research in Child Development, Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 1999. Correspondence should be sent to Amy R. Lederberg, Department of Educational Psychology and Special Education, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30303 (e-mail: [email protected] gsu.edu). © 2002 Oxford University Press

In raising a deaf child, parents are faced with a number of chronic stresses. These include frequent visits to speech therapists, controversies about oral versus manual communication, and decisions about educational placement. . . . These chronic stresses may substantially drain parents’ energy, time, and financial resources, potentially leading to emotional reactions of frustration, depression, and social isolation. (Quittner, 1991, p. 206–207) This view, that hearing parents are stressed by the difficulties they face while parenting a deaf child, has been repeated frequently throughout the last 30 years (e.g., Moses, 1985; Quittner, Glueckauf, & Jackson, 1990; Schlesinger, 1985) and has intuitive appeal. Although the diagnosis of deafness clearly has to be a stressful experience for hearing parents, does parenting young deaf children cause parents to experience more stress than parenting a young hearing child? Professionals have frequently assumed that the answer to this question is yes (see Moses, 1985). However, empirical research examining the level of parenting stress experienced by hearing mothers of deaf infants and preschoolers suggests that a high level of stress may not be inevitable. Out of three recent studies that examined this question, Quittner and her colleagues (1990, 1991) found that hearing parents of deaf children felt more stressed than parents of hearing children, while Meadow-Orlans (1994) and Pipp-Siegel, Sedey, and Yoshinaga-Itano (2001) did not. These contradictory findings are especially surprising because these three studies defined stress similarly,

Perceptions of Stress and Social Support

using versions of the Parenting Stress Index (PSI; Abidin, 1990). This instrument measures parenting stress in both the Child and Parent Domains. Specifically, scores obtained on the Child Domain scale reflect parents’ perceptions of the degree to which their children are difficult to parent because of socio-emotional problems, such as distractibility, adaptability, and moodiness. Scores obtained on the Parent Domain scale reflect the degree the parent feels affected by factors related to the parental role, such as attachment to the child, feelings of parenting competence, depression, and social isolation. The differences found in the impact of child deafness on parental stress seemed to be true differences between the studies, not consequences of sample size or inappropriate control groups. The mothers studied by Quittner et al. (1990) evidenced a high level of stress. The average stress level among the mothers of the children with hearing loss was at the 90th percentile of norms established for the PSI Child Domain. On the other hand, the well-matched control sample of mothers of hearing children scored at the 50th percentile. In contrast, the mothers of deaf infants studied by Meadow-Orlans (1994) had an average stress score at the 50th percentile of the normative sample. These mothers also did not differ in their stress level compared to a matched group of mothers of hearing infants. Similarly, using a short form of the PSI (Abidin, 1995; as cited in Pipp-Siegel et al., 2001), Pipp-Siegel et al. found that a large sample of hearing mothers of children with hearing loss did not differ significantly from the normative sample of mothers with hearing children on the Difficult Child and Dysfunctional Parent-Child Interaction subscales. In fact, on a third scale (Parental Distress) mothers of children with hearing loss were less stressed than mothers of hearing children. Although any number of factors may have caused child hearing loss to be a stressor in the Quittner et al. study (1990) and not the other two, two explanations seem to be the most likely. First, the studies differed in the chronological age of the children studied. Quittner et al. examined the stress level of mothers whose children had an average age of 4 years (range = 2 to 5 years). The other studies examined children who were considerably younger. Meadow-Orlans (1994) studied only 9month-old infants. Pipp-Siegel et al. (2001) included

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children whose average age was 2 years (range = 6 months to 5 years). It may be that the functioning of the family of the deaf child is not static, but changes as the child grows and develops. In infancy, when language is not integral to communication, the impact of a hearing loss may be qualitatively different than when the infant reaches early childhood. The family may experience a sense of grief or loss without an increase in parenting stress. However, as the child gets older and the impact of the hearing loss becomes more apparent, parenting stress may increase. Thus, Meadow-Orlans speculated “that the full impact of early deafness is felt by parents only in the preschool years when the communication gap between children who are deaf and those who are hearing becomes more evident” (p. 98). Alternatively, parenting stress may be related to the amount of educational support children and parents receive during infancy and toddlerhood. All of MeadowOrlans’ (1994) sample and the majority of Pipp-Siegel et al.’s (2001) families were identified and enrolled in intervention programs before age 2. In contrast, Quittner et al. (1990) examined stress among a large sample of children in the province of Ontario during a time when early identification and intervention were less frequent and intensive. Although Quittner et al. do not specify age of identification and intervention in their research report, they indicated that their sample was similar to the children included in another study (Musselman, Wilson, & Lindsay, 1988). In Musselman et al.’s study, only half of the children were enrolled in intervention programs before 2 years of age. In addition, many children lived in rural areas of Ontario and received less intensive intervention. Mothers of deaf children in Meadow-Orlans’ and Pipp-Siegel et al.’s studies may have experienced less stress than those studied by Quittner et al. because most had been receiving appropriate intervention services from the time their children were infants or toddlers. The major purpose of this study was to examine if parenting stress changes developmentally by examining parenting stress longitudinally when children were 22 months, 3 years, and 4 years of age. All deaf children in this study were identified prior to 2 years of age, with the majority identified and enrolled in an intervention program during infancy. Therefore, we can test whether parental stress increased during preschool among fam-

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ilies who have had educational support during their deaf children’s early development. Because of the longitudinal design, we also can determine the long-term stability of stress over the 2-year period. A second purpose of this study was to examine developmental changes in the influence of child deafness on the size of social networks and on the satisfaction mothers feel for the social support they receive from family, friends, community, and professionals. Social support plays a critical role in parents’ ability to cope with stress (Feher-Prout, 1996; Hintermair, 2000; Koester & Meadow-Orlans, 1990). Child deafness may affect maternal social networks in several ways. Quittner et al. (1990) found that mothers of deaf children reported smaller social networks and less frequent contact with family and friends than mothers of hearing children. In addition, mothers of deaf and hearing children differed in terms of the actual providers of support. The mothers of the deaf children were more likely to name health care providers as sources of support, whereas mothers of hearing children were more likely to name family and friends. Surprisingly, despite differences in the size and nature of these networks, mothers of deaf and hearing infants and children seem equally satisfied with their social support (Meadow-Orlans, 1994; Quittner et al., 1990). Thus, these smaller networks may be serving the needs of these parents. A third purpose of this study was to examine how a mother’s feelings of stress and her social support affect her overall feelings of well-being. For mothers of both deaf and hearing children, parenting stress is likely to influence both their feelings of satisfaction with social support and their own psychological functioning. Quittner et al. (1990) found that stress had both a direct and an indirect effect on parents’ psychological functioning. Mothers who reported having children who were moody, distractible, and demanding also reported having more psychological distress. Furthermore, Quittner et al. suggested that ability to cope with stress is mediated by satisfaction with social support. Mothers who experienced high levels of parent- and child-related stress felt less satisfied with their social support. Dissatisfaction with social support, in turn, related to mothers’ poorer psychological functioning. This longitudinal study investigated maternal per-

ceptions of stress and social support at 22 months, 3 years, and 4 years of age. By looking longitudinally at perceptions of hearing mothers with deaf and hearing children, we hoped to begin to address the contradictions and fill in the gaps created by the existing research and to examine developmental changes in the impact of child deafness on parenting stress and social support in the course of the family’s early growth. Based on past research, four hypotheses were tested: (1) the influence of child deafness on parenting stress will increase with child age; (2) mothers of deaf children will have smaller social support networks and will rely more heavily on professional and educational support than will mothers of hearing children; (3) there will be no differences in perceived satisfaction with social support for mothers of deaf and hearing children; and (4) mothers’ general life satisfaction will be related to parenting stress. This relation will be mediated by satisfaction with social support. A fifth issue investigated was the stability or predictability of maternal perceptions from child-age 22 months through 4 years of age. Because this study was the first longitudinal study of maternal perceptions of deaf children, it was uniquely suited to determine if maternal perceptions remain stable across the preschool years. This information should be of particular interest to professionals working in early intervention.

Method Participants This study was part of a larger longitudinal investigation (that occurred from 1985 to 1993) of parent-child interaction, language, and adjustment in mothers of deaf and hearing children (Lederberg, 1993; Lederberg & Everhart, 1998; Lederberg & Mobley, 1990; Lederberg & Prezbindowski, 2000). The sample for the study consisted of 23 hearing mothers of children with severe to profound hearing loss and 23 hearing mothers of hearing children. Mothers of the deaf children were recruited through five parent intervention programs for children with hearing loss in a major metropolitan area. Children whose hearing loss was identified before the age of 22 months, who did not have multiple handicaps,

Perceptions of Stress and Social Support

and who had hearing parents were eligible for inclusion in the larger study. Mothers of the hearing children were recruited through referrals from the mothers of deaf toddlers participating in this study, church groups, and personal contacts. Only those children who remained in the longitudinal investigation for all 3 years were included in this study. Seven children with a severeprofound loss who were assessed at 22 months were not assessed at 3 years or 4 years (two children moved away and five children’s parents declined to participate). A samplewise matching approach was used to obtain matched samples of deaf and hearing children. Mothers of the deaf and hearing children were matched as closely as possible (±1 for categorical demographic characteristics) on maternal age, marital status, years of education, child gender, and ethnicity (see Table 1). Prestige scores for maternal and paternal occupations were assigned using the Hodge-Siegel-Rossi Index (Hodge, Siegel, & Rossi, 1972). The two groups did not differ significantly for maternal age (t[44] = 1.55, p = .13), maternal occupation (t[44] = .91, p = .37), paternal education (t[44] = .27, p = .79), paternal occupation (t[44] = .87, p = .39), or child-age at the first data collection (t[44] = 1.55, p = .13) or second data collection (t[44] = 1.36,

Table 1 dyads

Demographic information for the mother-child

Variables Child gender Girls Boys Ethnicity Caucasian African American Hispanic Maternal education High school or less Some college College graduate or beyond Marital status at 22 months Married Single/divorced Maternal work status at 22 months Full-time out of home Part-time out of home Homemaker

Deaf children

Hearing children

13 10

13 10

19 3 1

19 3 1

8 8 7

8 7 8

21 2

22 1

13 1 9

11 2 10

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p = .18). The groups differed on age at the third data collection (t[37] = 2.13, p = .04). The deaf children were, on average, one month older (M = 51.4 months, SD = 2.7, range = 48–57) than the hearing children (M = 50.0 months, SD = 1.7, range = 48–53). It is unlikely that the variables measured in this study would be affected by this age difference, especially given the lack of developmental change in these variables (see below). All of the deaf children were classified as having a severe to profound hearing loss. The average age of identification of hearing loss was 9 months (SD = 5.26, range = 1–21 months); average age of intervention was 12 months (SD = 4.99, range = 3–22 months); and the average time between the two was 2.65 months (SD = 2.87, range = 0–11 months). Early intervention followed the SKI*HI model, with parent advisors visiting families weekly. Deaf children in this sample began center-based, all-day educational programming when they were 36 months old. Parents and school programs used a variety of different language approaches. At the first assessment, 15 mothers had taken at least one sign language class, with 1 also learning cued speech. Three mothers were trained to use an auditory-verbal approach with their toddlers, and five additional mothers used an oral (speech only) approach. The latter five had started taking sign language classes by child-age 3 years. At both 3 and 4 years of age, 20 children (including the child whose mother used cued speech) were enrolled in Simultaneous Communication (SC) classes, (i.e., where an English-based sign system and speech were used), and three children continued to be in the auditoryverbal training program. None of the mothers was using American Sign Language (ASL). Nineteen of the 23 hearing mother-deaf child dyads were included in an intensive study of communication at child ages 22 months and 3 years (see Lederberg & Everhart, 1998, 2000, for complete report). The majority of the deaf children were severely language-delayed. At 22 months, 50% of the deaf children used no spoken or signed words in 10 mins of free play; an additional 30% used fewer than nine one-word utterances. At 3 years of age, the language of 70% of the deaf children was still restricted to one-word utterances and was similar to that of the hearing 22-month-olds. Although the

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majority of parents were learning to sign, most parents primarily communicated through speech that was only occasionally accompanied by signs. At 22 months, less than 15% of the SC mothers’ communications contained signs. By 3 years, 30% of the communications contained signs.

Procedure As part of the larger research project, all hearing and deaf children with their hearing mothers visited the early intervention center four times. When children were approximately 22 months old (M age in months = 21.7, SD = 2.2, range = 18–26), each dyad was scheduled for two visits approximately 1 week apart. To obtain background and demographic information, mothers were interviewed twice, once at the start of the first visit and again at the end of the second visit. Each dyad visited the early intervention center two more times; when the children were 3 years old (M age in months = 38.4, SD = 2.2, range = 36–44) and again at 4 years old (M age in months = 50.7, SD = 2.4, range = 48–57). Mothers were interviewed to update demographic information at the beginning of each visit. In addition, at all three ages, two self-report questionnaires were given. One questionnaire measured parenting stress. The second measured maternal perceptions of social support and life satisfaction. The questionnaires were completed either during the visits or shortly after the visit at home.

Instruments Questionnaire on Resources and Stress-Short Form (QRS-F). During the first phase of data collection, when the children were 22 months of age, parenting stress was measured using the short form of the Questionnaire on Resources and Stress (QRS-F; Friedrich, Greenberg, & Crnic, 1983). The QRS-F is a 52-item self-report questionnaire specifically designed to measure stress in families of children with disabilities (including children with hearing loss). Friedrich et al. report a KR-20 reliability coefficient for the QRS-F of .95. The items on the short form were selected from the longer QRS to create an assessment that concentrated on issues that concern families of children with disabilities (Friedrich et al., 1983). Respondents are asked to

judge whether each of 52 items is true or false. Blanks in the items are to be filled in with the child’s name. The items are divided into four scales. 1. The Parent and Family Problems scale, consisting of 20 items, measures problems in the self, family members, or the family as a whole. Two exemplars are “Other members of the family have to do without things because of ______.” and “I can go visit with friends whenever I want.” 2. The Pessimism scale, consisting of 11 items, measures both immediate and future pessimism about the child’s achieving self-sufficiency. An exemplar: “I worry about what will happen to ______ when I can no longer take care of him/her.” 3. The Child Characteristics scale, consisting of 15 items, measures communication, behavioral, and attitudinal difficulties of the child. An exemplar: “I feel tense when I take ______ out in public.” 4. Finally, the Physical Incapacitation scale consists of 6 items and measures physical limitations and selfhelp skills of the child. An exemplar: “ ______ can walk without help.” Parenting Stress Index. We replaced the QRS-F with the PSI-Version 6 (Abidin, 1990) during the second and third phase of data collection (i.e., when children were 3 and 4 years old) because it had become the most commonly used instrument to measure parenting stress. The PSI is a 101-item clinical and research self-report questionnaire designed to identify sources of stress and dysfunction in parent-child relationships and was used by both Quittner et al. (1990) and Meadow-Orlans (1994). Parents are asked to rate items on 5-point Likert scales that range from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The PSI yields two scores that reflect the levels of childrelated and parent-related stress. The Child Domain consists of six subscales: Acceptability of the child to the mother, Adaptability, Demandingness, Moodiness, and Distractibility/Hyperactivity of the child, and the degree to which the Child Reinforces Parent. The Parent Domain consists of seven subscales measuring Depression, Parental Attachment, Restrictions of Role, Parental Sense of Competence in the Parenting Role, Social Isolation, Relations with Spouse, and Parental Health. Scores from the Child Domain and the Parent Do-

Perceptions of Stress and Social Support

main may be combined to create a single score, or Total Stress Score, measuring overall parenting stress. The two domain scores and the total score can be converted to percentile ranks based on a normed sample of 2,633 parents. With these norms, parents can be identified as those who need professional intervention (defined as scores at the 90th percentile or above; Abidin, 1990). Alpha reliability coefficients for the individual subscales of the PSI range from .71 to .97 for the Child Domain and from .79 to .99 for the Parent Domain (Abidin, 1990). The PSI has also demonstrated good test-retest reliability, ranging from .70 to .82 for a 3–4 week interval (Abidin). Social Support Questionnaire. Mothers completed a second questionnaire compiled by Crnic, Greenberg, Ragozin, Robinson, and Basham (1983) that measures parents’ size of social network, satisfaction with social support, and general life satisfaction. This questionnaire included multiple-choice questions that addressed the following areas: 1. Size of parents’ social networks is measured by four questions. Two items measure the size of the mothers’ professional network (“How many medically [educationally]-related professionals do/could you talk to about your child?”). Two items measure the size of the mothers’ general social network. (“If sometime you were to have bad or angry feelings about your child, how many people do you talk to about this?” “If you were to have a minor problem with your child, how many people [friends or family] would you talk to, whose advice you trust?”) 2. Satisfaction with support is measured with 18 questions concerning available support at four ecological levels: spouse/partner, friends, community, and professionals. Questions address the frequency of and satisfaction with support given by partners/spouses, friends, community/neighborhood organizations, and medical and educational professionals. 3. Life satisfaction was measured by one question: “When you take everything into consideration—the child, your adult life, etc.,— how would you describe your current life situation?”). Parents respond to this question using a 5-point Likert scale that ranges from very bad to very good.

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Results: Developmental Change and Group Differences Did mothers of deaf children differ from mothers of hearing children in their feelings/perceptions of stress and social support? Did they differ in how those feelings changed developmentally from 22 months to 4 years of age? To address these questions, we examined the effect of child deafness on stress, social support, and life satisfaction, as well as developmental changes in these areas. Multiple Analyses of Variance (MANOVAs) were used to analyze related dependent variables. Stress at 22 months was analyzed separately from stress at 3 and 4 years because different instruments were used at these ages. Whenever there were significant main or interaction effects, analyses of variance (ANOVAs) were conducted for individual scales. Size of networks, satisfaction with support, and life satisfaction analyses included scores from all three ages. Parenting Stress at 22 Months. One-way (hearing status) MANOVA and subsequent ANOVAs revealed group differences for two of the four individual subscales of the QRS-F (see Table 2). Mothers of deaf children reported greater pessimism about their child’s achieving self-sufficiency (t[43] = 2.76, p < .01) and greater stress because of child characteristics (t [43] = 4.55, p < .001) than did mothers of hearing children. Mothers of deaf and hearing children did not differ in their reports of the level of physical incapacitation of their children (t[43] =.68, p = .5) or in their reports of the amount of parent and family problems (t[43] = 1.22, p < .2). Table 2 Mean scores (standard deviations) on four QRS-F scales for mothers of deaf and hearing 22-month-olds

Type of scale

Mothers of deaf children

Mothers of hearing children

Child Characteristics Pessimism Parent and family problems Physical incapacitation

.30 (.21) .23 (.21) .16 (.15) .32 (.11)

.14a (.15) .00a (.15) .11 (.13) .34 (.11)

Means can vary from 1.00 (all of the mothers’ answers to the questions indicate stress) to 0 (the mother never selected an answer that indicates stress). Means of the mothers of deaf and hearing children are significantly different at p < .001. a

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To further explore the sources of stress for mothers of deaf 22-month-olds, 2 (hearing status) × 2 (type of answer) chi-square analyses were conducted on the QRS-F items contained in the two scales that showed group differences. Of the 15 items in the Child Characteristics scale, 4 items showed significant group differences (see Table 3). Three of the items specifically refer to children’s ability to communicate with people in their environment. The last item addresses concerns about restrictions to their children’s future employment. The two items on the Pessimism Scale that showed significant group differences seem to reflect concerns by some mothers about deaf children’s ability to lead a normal life. Thus, the increased stress expressed by mothers of deaf children seems to be primarily due to the children’s communication difficulties and to maternal concerns about the future.

Parenting Stress at 3 and 4 years Parent Domain stress. As is evident in Table 4, the Parent Domain stress scores of mothers of deaf and hearing children were similar at both ages. The seven subscales of the Parent Domain of the PSI were analyzed using a 2 (age) × 2 (hearing status) repeated measures MANOVA. Parent Domain stress did not differ significantly for the deaf and hearing groups (F[1, 44] = .72, p = .63) or by

Table 3

child age (F[1, 44] = 1.03, p = .42) nor was there a significant interaction between age and hearing status, (F[1, 44] = 1.02, p = .43). Child Domain stress. Mothers of deaf and hearing children were also similar in the amount of child-related stress at both ages (see Table 4). A 2 (age) × 2 (hearing status) repeated measures MANOVA analyzing the six individual Child Domain subscales revealed no significant main effects, F(1, 44) = 1.69, p = .16; F(1, 44) = .67, p = .65; or interaction, F(1, 44) = .32, p = .90. Normative comparisons. Because of the relatively small sample size, the power to detect group differences was low in this study and therefore the above analyses must be viewed with caution. However, normative comparisons further indicate an “average” level of stress among mothers of deaf children. PSI (but not the QRS-F) allowed comparison with the norms provided for the scale (Abidin, 1990). Analyses of percentile ranks of mothers of deaf children confirm that only a very few of these mothers expressed a high stress level. The average total, parent-domain, and child-domain stress levels of the mothers of deaf and hearing children at child-age 3 and 4 years were between the 40th and 65th percentile on Abidin’s norms (see Table 4). Thus, this sample is similar to the normed sample, and a series of one-sample t

Items that differentiated mothers of deaf and hearing toddlers on the QRS-F Mothers

Scale and item Child Characteristics Scale “It is difficult to communicate with_________ because he/she has difficulty understanding what is being said to him/her.” “It is easy to communicate with___________.” “People can’t understand what ___tries to say.” “_______ is limited in the kind of work he/she can do to make a living.” Pessimism Scale “It bothers me that ___will always be this way.” “I worry about what will happen to ____ when I no longer take care of him/her.” Percentage of mothers in the sample who chose the answer (true/false) that indicated stress.

AQ1

*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

Deaf children

Hearing children

Chi square

50% 41% 73%

0% 9% 44%

15.21*** 6.32** 3.94*

27%

0%

7.23**

50%

4%

11.98***

41%

13%

4.47*

Perceptions of Stress and Social Support Table 4

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Mean scores (standard deviations) on the PSI scales for mothers of deaf and hearing children Deaf children

Hearing children

PSI Scale

3 years

4 years

3 years

4 years

Child Domain Parent Domain Total

105.9 (17.3) 125.1c (26.6) 221.7b (37.4)

101.1 (18.8) 115.17a (24.0) 214.0a (35.7)

100.2 (16.5) 112.9a (19.1) 213.1a (33.0)

97.7b (13.7) 114.1a (20.6) 211.7a (32.2)

c

c

b

Superscripts denote the percentile ranks on the PSI norms. a

35–45.

b

46–55.

c

56–65.

For comparison, 50th percentile scores from the normative sample for each scale are Child Domain = 99; Parent Domain = 121. Total Stress = 221.

tests confirms that there were no significant differences between stress levels of these mothers of deaf children and Abidin’s (1990) normative levels. Abidin (1990) suggested that anyone with a stress score above the 90th percentile should be referred for clinical treatment. At 3 years of age, slightly more mothers of deaf children (17%, n = 4) and fewer mothers of hearing children (4%; n = 1) were highly stressed compared to the normed sample (which by definition had 10% of respondents scoring above the clinical cut-off). At 4 years, similar proportions of mothers of deaf and hearing children (9%, n = 2; 13%, n = 3, respectively) appeared highly stressed and these proportions are similar to the normed sample. Chi-square analyses indicated no significant differences in the number of highly stressed mothers of deaf and hearing children. There was considerable stability in which mothers of deaf and hearing children were highly stressed at child-age 3 and 4 years of age. All but two mothers who were below the cutoff at 3 years remained below the cutoff at 4 years. Of the five mothers who were highly stressed at 3, three were still highly stressed at 4. In summary, mothers of deaf children expressed more stress than mothers of hearing children at childage 22 months as measured by the QRS-F, but not at child-ages 3 and 4 years as measured by the PSI. Because different instruments were used, these findings could be due to age effects or to the fact that different aspects of stress were measured at the different ages. Content analyses of the QRS-F supports the latter interpretation; the higher levels of stress expressed by mothers of deaf 22-month-olds seemed to be primarily due to

the children’s communication difficulties and maternal concerns about the future, which are sources of stress not measured on the PSI.

Results: Social Networks, Support, and Life Satisfaction Size of General and Professional Networks The 2 (hearing status) × 3 (age) repeated measures MANOVA that analyzed the two subscales for size of networks showed a significant main effect for hearing status, F(1, 44) = 13.6, p < .01, and a significant interaction between hearing status and age, F(1, 44) = 2.67, p < .05. The follow-up ANOVA analyzing size of general networks revealed only a significant main effect for hearing status, F(1, 44) = 8.51, p < .01. Mothers of hearing children had significantly larger social networks (M = 2.8, SD = .64) than mothers of deaf children (M = 2.4, SD = .61). The ANOVA analyzing size of professional networks showed only a significant interaction for hearing status and age, F(1, 44) = 7.90, p < .001. Mothers of deaf children had significantly more professionals available to them than mothers of hearing children at child-age 22 months (t [44] = 4.74, p < .001). At this age, mothers of deaf children, on average, had more than four medical and two educational professionals for support; whereas mothers of hearing toddlers averaged two medical and one educational professionals. By the time their children reached 3 years of age, however, the size of the professional network for the mothers of hearing children

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had increased significantly to, on average, three medical and two educational professionals.

Satisfaction With Social Support The next MANOVA analyzed the four subscales of the Social Support Questionnaire that measured maternal satisfaction with support from partners, friends, community, and medical/educational personnel. Satisfaction with social support did not differ significantly for the deaf and hearing groups, F(1, 44) = 1.75, p = .16, or by child age F(1, 44) = .412, p = .91, nor was there a significant interaction, F(1, 44) =.434, p = .89. Despite differences in size of networks, mothers of deaf and hearing children were equally satisfied with social support. On average, mothers rated themselves between “somewhat satisfied” and “very satisfied” with the amount of support provided them by their partners, friends, and professional personnel. While, on average, mothers were satisfied with the social support they received from partners and friends, there was a substantial dissatisfied minority. Dissatisfaction with support by partners, friends, and professionals ranged from 10% to 33% of mothers, depending on age and child hearing status. Satisfaction with their community/neighborhood support was lower than other sources of support, averaging between “somewhat dissatisfied” and “somewhat satisfied.”

Life Satisfaction A 2 (hearing status) × 3 (age) ANOVA revealed no significant main or interaction effects for general life satisfaction. For both groups, the majority of mothers were satisfied with their lives. Over 70% of mothers of deaf and hearing children at all 3 ages said things in their lives were either “fairly good” or “very good” (“4” or “5” on the 5-point scale). With the exception of one or two at each age, the rest of the mothers said “things are OK-not bad or not good.”

Results: Stability of Maternal Perceptions for Mothers of Deaf Children Do maternal perceptions and concerns about their deaf toddler predict their general parenting stress when their children are 4 years of age? Does size of social networks

and satisfaction with social supports show stability from 22 months to 4 years of age? This series of analyses examined the stability or long-term predictability of stress, size of networks, satisfaction with social support, and general life satisfaction over the toddler-preschool years. We were specifically interested in the predictability of these perceptions of mothers of deaf children, so mothers of hearing children were not included in these analyses. Stability or predictability was assessed using hierarchical multiple regression. Each dependent variable at age 4 was first regressed on the related dependent variable at 22 months (to assess long-term predictability) and then on the related dependent variable at 3 years. If a variable was completely predictable from 22 months to 4 years, then the addition of the 3 year-old variable to the equation will not account for any additional variance.

Parenting Stress The two QRS-F subscales (Parent and Family Problem scale and Child Characteristics scale) whose items were similar in content to the items on the PSI Parent Domain and Child Domain scales were used to predict stress at 4 years old (see Table 5). Parent-related stress was very predictable over this two-year age span (adjusted R 2 = .74). The 22-month Parent and Family Problem Scale accounted for almost half of the variance (49%) of the 4-year Parent Domain PSI scores. The 3year Parent-Domain PSI scale accounted for an additional 25% of the variance. Child-related stress was also highly predictable (adjusted R2 = .71). The 22-month Child Characteristics subscale of the QRS-F predicted 34% of the variance of the 4-year Child-Domain PSI scores. The 3-year ChildDomain PSI scores accounted for an additional 38% of the variance at 4. For both types of stress, scores at 22 months and at 3 years uniquely predicted stress at 4 years (see β s and t tests in Table 5). Thus, it appears that expressing concerns and worries about a toddler’s disability and feelings of general parenting stress at 3 years have an additive effect on parenting stress at 4 years.

Size of Social Networks Size of the mothers’ general social networks showed significant stability (adjusted R2 = .50), with most of the

Perceptions of Stress and Social Support

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Table 5 Summary of series of hierarchical multiple regression analysis for predicting mothers of deaf children’s stress, size of network, and satisfaction with social support at 4 years of age

Parent domain stress: 4 years QRS-F parent: 22 months PSI parent: 3 years Child domain stress: 4 years QRS-F child: 22 months PSI child: 3 years Size of social network: 4 years Size: 22 months Size: 3 years Size of professional network: 4 years Size: 22 months Size: 3 years Satisfaction with intimate social support: 4 years Satisfaction: 22 months Satisfaction: 3 years Satisfaction with friends’ social support: 4 years Satisfaction: 22 months Satisfaction: 3 years

df

R2

R2 change

F change

β

t

1, 18 1, 17

.49 .74

.25

17.41*** 16.06***

.35 .61

2.33*** 4.01***

1, 18 1, 17

.34 .71

.38

9.16** 22.36***

.42 .63

3.17** 4.73***

1, 19 1, 18

.12 .50

.38

2.62 13.71**

.13 .66

.71 3.70***

1, 19 1, 18

.00 .26

.26

0.04 6.18***

.23 .59

0.34 2.92**

1, 18 1, 17

.58 .74

.16

25.20*** 10.31***

.38 .55

2.28* 3.21***

1, 19 1, 18

.14 .42

.29

2.96 9.08**

.07 .62

0.34 3.01**

Each variable at 4 years of age was first regressed on related variable at 22 months and then the variable at 3 years. R2 and F tests are for the two steps. βs and t tests are reported only for the last step. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

variance accounted for by the size of social networks at 3 years (38%). The size of the mothers’ network of medical and educational professionals was much less stable over time (adjusted R2 = .26).

Satisfaction With Social Support and Life Satisfaction Satisfaction with the intimate support was extremely stable across the preschool years (adjusted R2 = .74). Twenty-two-month intimate social support scores predicted more than half (59%) of the 4-year satisfaction scores and 3-year scores predicted an additional 16%. Satisfaction with support provided by friends was moderately stable (adjusted R2 = .43). Satisfaction with professional and community support did not show stability during the preschool years (professional, adjusted R2 = .12; community, adjusted R2 = .11). In summary, hearing mothers’ concerns about, and satisfaction with, their deaf toddlers, partners, and family life strongly predicted their degree of stress and satisfaction with their family at 4 years of age. Size of general social networks and satisfaction with friends was

also moderately stable. Satisfaction with other sources of support showed much less stability.

Effects of Parenting Stress and Satisfaction of Social Support on Life Satisfaction How does parent-related and child-related stress relate to mothers’ feelings of satisfaction with their lives? Direct and indirect effects of parenting stress on general life satisfaction were tested by three path analyses. Satisfaction with social support was included in the analyses to determine if it mediated the relation between parenting stress and general life satisfaction (Quittner et al., 1990). The three path analyses were conducted once at each age to test the robustness of the pattern of relations between stress, satisfaction with social support, and general life satisfaction. As Quittner et al. (1990) did, these path analyses included data from mothers of both hearing and deaf children. Because of our sample size and issues of power, we were not able to examine how child deafness affected these relations. Although there is no past research that suggests that child deafness or

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Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 7:4 Fall 2002

other child characteristics affect these relations, generalizing to the subsample of hearing mothers of deaf children should be viewed as tentative. For purposes of these analyses, computing the mean of Intimate and Friend Social Support subscales created a combined variable: satisfaction with social support. The Community and Professional Social Support subscales were not significantly correlated with these subscales and were therefore not included in the combined social support variable. 22 months old. The first path analysis examined relations between the three subscales of the QRS-F (Parent and Family Problems, Pessimism, and Child Characteris-

tics), satisfaction with social support, and general life satisfaction. Results revealed that only the Parent and Family Problems factor was significantly directly related to general life satisfaction (see Figure 1, Table 6). Mothers who reported greater stress related to parenting and family problems reported significantly less general life satisfaction. The relation between parent-related stress and life satisfaction was not mediated through social support satisfaction. The two child-related stress scales had no direct effect on general life satisfaction. In addition, the relation between these scales and life satisfaction was not mediated by social support. On the other hand, both childrelated stress scales were significantly correlated with

Figure 1. Path diagram of direct and indirect effects of parenting stress at 22 months on life satisfaction at 22 months. Table 6

Explaining life satisfaction at child age 22 months: Partition into direct and indirect effects

Scales

Direct effect

Total indirect

Total effect

Redundancy

Zero-order (Pearson’s r)

Parent and Family Problems Pessimism Child Characteristics Social Support

–.38* –.15 –.01 .21

–.05 –.01 –.08 .00

–.43 –.16 –.09 .21

–.14 –.28 –.26 .22

–.57* –.44* –.35* .43*

Redundancy is the difference between the zero-order correlation and the total effect. Significance is noted for direct effects and zero-order correlations only. N = 46. *p < .05.

Perceptions of Stress and Social Support

341

Figure 2. Path diagram of direct and indirect effects of parent and child stress at 3 years on life satisfaction at 3 years. Table 7

Explaining life satisfaction at child age 3 years: Partition into direct and indirect effects

Scale

Direct effect

Total indirect

Total effect

Redundancy

Zero-order (Pearson’s r)

Parent Domain Child Domain Social Support

–.43* .09 .34*

–.26 .07 .00

–.69 .16 .34

.12 –.48 .23

–.57* –.32* .57*

Redundancy is the difference between the zero-order correlation and the total effect. Significance is noted for direct effects and zero-order correlations only. N = 46. *p < .05.

the parent-related scale. Therefore, child-related stress seems to have an indirect effect on life satisfaction through parent-related stress. 3 years old. Results of a similar path analysis investigating the direct and indirect effects of parent and child stress on life satisfaction at age 3 indicated again that only parent-related stress was directly related to life satisfaction. Mothers with greater parent-related stress reported less life satisfaction. In addition, at 3, the relation between parent-related stress and life satisfaction was mediated by satisfaction with social support (see Figure 2, Table 7). Mothers who reported greater parentrelated stress reported significantly less satisfaction with social support. Mothers who reported less satisfaction with social support reported significantly less life satisfaction. Therefore, parent-related stress was negatively related to general life satisfaction both directly and indirectly through its negative effect on satisfaction with social support. Child stress was highly and significantly

correlated with parent stress but did not have a direct relation with life satisfaction. Child stress was only indirectly related to life satisfaction through parent stress, and not through satisfaction with social support. 4 years old. The 4-year-old path analysis revealed results similar to the earlier ages (see Figure 3, Table 8). There was a significant direct relationship between parent stress and life satisfaction. Mothers who reported greater parent stress also reported significantly less satisfaction with social support. However, satisfaction with social support was not significantly related to life satisfaction and therefore could not mediate the effects of parent-related stress on general life satisfaction. Childrelated stress was again highly correlated with parenting-related stress. In summary, at all three ages, parent-related stress had a direct link with mothers’ feelings of satisfaction with their lives. Child-related stress only had an indirect effect on life satisfaction (through parent-related

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Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 7:4 Fall 2002

Figure 3. Path diagram of direct and indirect effects of parent and child stress at 4 years on life satisfaction at 4 years.

Table 8

Explaining life satisfaction at 4 years: Partition into direct and indirect effects

Variable

Direct effect

Total indirect

Total effect

Redundancy

Zero-order (Pearson’s r)

Parent Domain Child Domain Social Support

–.53* .14 .19

–.15 .04 .00

–.68 .18 .19

.14 –.51 .25

–.54* –.33* .44*

Redundancy is the difference between the zero-order correlation and the total effect. Significance is noted for direct effects and zero-order correlations only. N = 46. *p < .05.

stress). The mediating effect of satisfaction with social support was not consistent across ages. Thus, how satisfied mothers felt with their lives was most closely related to how they felt about their parenting, and only indirectly related to their assessment of their children’s problems.

Discussion One of the major goals of this study was to clarify past research on the effect of child deafness on hearing mothers’ feelings of stress. Our results suggest that, for families enrolled in early intervention programs, child deafness may increase stress only in specific areas. At child age 22 months, mothers of deaf children expressed more stress, as measured by the QRS-F, than mothers of hearing children. At child-age 3 and 4 years, the amount of stress experienced by mothers of deaf children was comparable to our control group of mothers of hearing

children and to the general population as established by the norms of the PSI. Because different instruments were used to measure stress, these “age effects” could have been due to the instruments or to a decrease in parental stress as deaf children entered preschool. Comparison with past research suggests the latter is unlikely. Both Meadow-Orlans (1994) and Pipp-Siegel et al. (2001) found no differences in stress as measured by the PSI during infancy and toddlerhood, while Quittner et al. (1990) found a high degree of stress on the PSI for mothers of deaf preschoolers. In fact, our original hypothesis (like that of MeadowOrlans) was that stress would increase in preschool as language becomes more important. The higher levels of stress experienced by mothers of deaf 22-month-olds was in two areas that were measured on the QRS-F but not the PSI. More mothers of deaf 22-month-olds described their children as having communication difficulties than mothers of hearing 22-

Perceptions of Stress and Social Support

month-olds. More mothers of deaf toddlers also expressed concerns about their 22-month-olds’ futures than mothers of hearing children. The Parent and Family Problems scale on the QRS-F, which shows the highest content similarity and cross-age correlation with the Parent-Domain PSI, did not show group differences. It is not surprising that hearing parents of deaf children were concerned with the communication difficulties they and others face with their children. For the mother-child dyads in our study, these difficulties were extensive. Communication breakdowns were common in the interactions between the hearing mothers and their deaf children (Lederberg & Mobley, 1990), and the majority of the children were severely language-delayed (Lederberg & Everhart, 1998). Surprisingly, these difficulties did not seem to have a broad impact on stress or these mothers’ satisfaction with their lives. Mothers of deaf children did not perceive their children as more difficult, doubt their abilities as parents, or feel more restricted by their children. Path analysis found that feelings of life satisfaction at child age 22 months was not related to mothers’ concerns about their children’s communication difficulties or pessimism about the future. This group data are consistent with the picture that emerged in an in-depth case study of one hearing family’s adjustment to parenting a deaf child from infancy through preschool. Spencer (2000) found that the parents’ concerns and stress were centered on communication needs of their child. She notes, “Instead of wanting to talk about feelings of grief and loss, they appreciated opportunities to learn specifics about the potential of various communication systems” (p. 128). The lack of high levels of parenting stress during preschool in our study may be a measure of success of early intervention programs. Greenberg (1983) found that intensive early intervention decreased stress among mothers of deaf children. All the mothers in the present study, as well as most of those studied by Pipp-Siegel et al. (2001) and Meadow-Orlans (1994), were enrolled in early intervention programs. In contrast, Quittner et al.’s (1990) sample included children who were identified late and lived in rural areas with less intensive intervention services (Musselman et al., 1988). The high level of maternal stress in the latter study can serve as a warning for the importance of early identification and intervention.

343

It is important to note that, although the level of stress of mothers in our study was similar in both groups and to the PSI’s normed sample, a number of mothers in both groups had a stress level high enough to suggest they would benefit from family therapy. The long-term stability of parental stress (both parent- and child-related) over the preschool years suggests that parent stress is frequently not a result of acute crisis but rather a long-term part of some parents’ lives that will not change without increased intervention. In addition, the independent contributions of feelings of stress at 22 months and 3 years on perceptions at 4 years suggest that stress is a cumulative, additive process. Although the extra demands of caring for a deaf child do not seem to cause increased parenting stress, these added demands might restrict the time mothers have to spend with other people. As in Quittner et al. (1990), mothers of deaf children in our study had smaller social networks than mothers of hearing children. Although these networks were smaller, mothers of deaf and hearing children were equally satisfied by the social support they received from their partners, friends, communities, and professionals. Satisfaction with the different types of social support did not change developmentally. Quittner et al. and Meadow-Orlans (1994) also found similar levels of satisfaction with social support among mothers of deaf and hearing children. Thus, the majority of mothers of deaf children feel that their smaller social networks provide the social support that they need. However, a substantial minority (25%–33%) felt dissatisfied with the support they receive from their partners and friends. Because satisfaction with support, especially partner support, was very stable from 22 months to 4 years, family therapy may be an important component of intervention with these mothers. Meadow-Olans and Steinberg (1993) found that satisfaction with social support was especially important for mothers of deaf children. Specifically, mothers of deaf children who were satisfied with their social support had more positive interactions with their deaf toddlers than those who had less support. Therefore, increasing mothers’ satisfaction with their support may improve relations with their deaf children. Finally, results from path analyses at all three ages consistently indicated that parent-related stress has the most direct and significant effect on how mothers per-

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Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 7:4 Fall 2002

ceive and evaluate their lives. In contrast, Child-Domain stress only had an indirect effect on mothers’ life satisfaction, through its strong and significant relation with parent-domain stress. Similarly, satisfaction with social support, although strongly related to Parent-Domain stress, did not have a direct effect on life satisfaction. Thus, mothers’ feelings of competence about their abilities to parent, and their acceptance of the changes in their lives derived from being a parent, are the most important predictors of these mothers’ satisfaction with their lives. If parents feel they are coping with Child-Domain stressors, these stressors do not seem to affect the mothers’ feelings of well-being. This supports the hypothesis advanced by both Lederberg and Prezbindowski (2000) and Spencer (2000), which states that emphasizing the strengths and competencies of hearing parents’ abilities to parent their deaf children may be an important component of early intervention with these families. The importance of parent-domain stressors may be specific to mothers who are not feeling extremely stressed by their children. Quittner et al. (1990) found, in their path analyses, that Child-Domain stress had a strong direct effect on maternal well-being, while Parent-Domain stress were only weakly related to mothers’ mental health and was mediated by satisfaction with social support. The differences in the degree of ChildDomain stress experienced by parents in the two studies may account for these different findings. The ChildDomain stress scores reported by Quittner et al. suggest that the majority of these parents viewed their deaf children as unadaptable, distractible, hyperactive, moody, and not reinforcing. Because many of these children were late-identified and these families did not have the benefits of early intervention, it may be that these mothers were reporting real (rather than just perceived) behavioral difficulties. Such high degree of Child-Domain stress may be so overwhelming, that other factors (e.g., Parent Domain stress and social support) do not affect mothers’ mental health. In summary, this study is the only longitudinal study of the impact of child deafness on hearing mothers’ perceptions of stress and social support. Contrary to our hypotheses, we found that, along most dimensions, these perceptions did not change developmentally during the preschool years. In fact, individual differences in parenting stress, size of general social networks, and sat-

isfaction with social support remained very stable across the more than 2 years that were assessed. Mothers of deaf toddlers expressed concern about their children’s communication difficulties and ability to be self-sufficient as adults. These concerns did not seem to affect mothers’ perceptions and satisfaction with their lives, social support, or other areas of child and parent stress. Because researchers have used instruments that measure general parenting stress, we do not know if the concerns specific to parenting deaf children are experienced as very stressful by parents. Future research should explore the affective impact of these concerns by using instruments more focused on parenting deaf children. Meadow-Orlans (1990) developed a questionnaire, Impact of Childhood Hearing Loss on the Family, which might provide a more in-depth description of stress and coping in families of deaf children than more general measures.

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