Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Reflective functioning capacity in mothers of boys with ADHD, learning disorders and associated behavior problems
by Ekert Rothstein, Anne-Britt, Ph.D., City University of New York, 2012, 208; 3541702
Abstract (Summary)

The present study investigated the experience of mothers who have children with ADHD, learning disabilities and behavior problems. Data were collected from 18 mothers of 7 to 9 year old boys with ADHD, and/or learning disabilities and behavior problems using the Parent Development Interview, (PDI-R); (Slade, Aber, Berger, Bresgi, & Kaplan, 2003). The PDI is a semi-structured interview, which asks parents to describe themselves and their children and to talk about their child's and their own emotional experiences, thoughts and feelings at times when things between parent and child go well and when they do not go smoothly. A large amount of psychologically rich data was gathered on the mothers' experience, which was qualitatively analyzed with the aim to add to our knowledge of the experience of mothers raising boys with ADHD, LDs and associated behavior problems. In addition, the narratives of the PDI were scored for reflective functioning ("RF") capacity (Fonagy, Steele, Moran, Steele & Higgitt, 1991; Fonagy, Steele, Steele, Leigh, Kennedy, Mattoon & Target, 1995). RF capacity describes a parent's ability to reflect on her own and her child's state of mind; much research to date suggests that there are many benefits to a mother having good mentalizing capacity, for her child and for her relationship with her child.

In the qualitative portion of the analysis of the interview, nine primary themes emerged relating to the mother's parenting experience: 1) the child's experiencing difficulties; 2) frustration and anger; 3) the mothers experiencing difficulties; 4) guilt; 5) loss; 6) worry; 7) overcoming problems; 8) learning from experience; 9) wish for the child to reach his potential. These themes are consistent with prior research, and the present study expands our knowledge of a mother's parenting experience.

The other aim of the study was to investigate the mothers' RF capacity and whether it varied dependent on the content of the various subsections of the interview. A possible relationship between RF capacity and mothers' reports of a more positive and rewarding parenting experience was considered. However, the study's findings suggest that in the current sample RF capacity did not mediate a mother's report of a more positive parenting experience. In addition, the study explored a mother's ability to mentalize while talking specifically about her affective experience of parenting compared to her RF capacity overall as measured with the PDI. The study findings suggest that only the mothers with the highest RF scores in the sample (low average) evidenced a variation in their RF functioning in this regard. Results showed that it was harder for those mothers with the higher sample scores to reflect specifically on the affective experience compared to the rest of the interview questions. Additionally this research explored a mother's ability to reflect when responding to questions that directly asked about the child's learning and behavior challenges. The study findings suggest that mothers had a more difficult time, as reflected in lower RF scores, when talking about their experiences raising a learning disabled child as well as the effect their children's learning and behavior issues had on their relationship.

Results showed that the overall RF scores of the study sample were significantly lower compared to other nonclinical samples. The study's investigation of a relationship which may exist between parenting a child with ADHD/LDs and associated behavior problems and a mother's RF capacity suggests that the emotional and psychological strains of mothering a child with these issues may lead to certain coping mechanisms and defenses that may significantly decrease a mother's ability to mentalize. If future studies confirm lower levels of mentalizing functioning in the population under study, this has far-reaching implications for clinical practice. The current study highlights the importance of working with this population therapeutically to increase its RF capacity, as it links parenting stress in this population with RF capacity, as well as coping mechanisms and defensive activity.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Tuber, Steven B.
Commitee: Fraenkel, Peter, Gomes, Hilary, Slade, Arietta, Weinstein, Lissa
School: City University of New York
Department: Psychology
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-B 74/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Behavioral psychology, Clinical psychology
Keywords: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Behavior problems, Learning disorders, Mothers, Reflective functioning
Publication Number: 3541702
ISBN: 978-1-267-68425-7
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