Parental stress includes "subjective experiences of distress as emotional pain and anxiety"
(Deater-Deckard, 2004). High levels of parental stress can have a cumulative effect over time
and have a negative impact on family relationships (Quittner, Glueckay and Jackson, 1990).
Parents of children with intellectual disabilities report relatively high levels of distress, with a
wide range of child, parent, family and service support factors implicated in parental distress
(Hatton and Emerson, 2003). Severity of a child's difficulty is often linked with the level of
parental stress (Keller and Honig, 2004).
The role of social support variables in protecting and maintaining physical and psychological
health has been well established across a variety of studies (e.g. Koeske and Loeske, 1990).
Generally it can be suggested that a lack of positive social relationships can lead to negative
psychological states such as anxiety or depression.
It was the aim of this study to investigate any association between levels of parental stress,
social support and levels of child difficulty in a group of parents whose children had previously
undergone a multi-professional assessment of their difficulties. A further aim was to investigate
whether level of reported depressive symptomology related to the level of parental stress
Participants included forty-four parents whose children had been assessed six to twelve months
previously. Parents completed questionnaires measuring parental stress, social support, level of
child difficulty and a screening measure of depressive symptomology.
The results of this study indicate that there was evidence of associations between level of
parental stress, reported social support and perceived level of child difficulty. The results also
suggest that there was evidence of an association between parental stress and level of reported
The results of this study support the hypothesis that both social support and level of child
difficulty are predicative of level of parental stress.
The limitations of this study and implications for future research are discussed.