Comfort provided by parents versus strangers after eliciting stress in children with severe or profound intellectual disabilities: does it make a difference?

Sien Vandesande, Guy Bosmans, Paula Sterkenburg, Carlo Schuengel, Wim Van Den Noortgate, Bea Maes

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Abstract

The relationships between children with severe or profound intellectual disabilities (ID) and their parents may fulfil attachment functions, such as regulating emotional responses to stress. This study examined the extent to which children with severe or profound ID differentiate between their parents and a stranger as a resource for stress-regulation. A home-based experimental paradigm was conducted and video-recorded in 38 families. Children (1–8 years) were exposed to four naturalistic stressors followed by comfort, randomly provided by the parents or the stranger. Emotional behaviour (arousal and valence) and the skin conductance level were simultaneously recorded. With regard to both emotional behaviour and skin conductance, children significantly differentiated between their parents as attachment figures and the stranger during stress and comfort, despite their impairments on various developmental domains. Behavioural observation and physiology show complementary manifestations of parent-child attachment in this population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)425-447
Number of pages23
JournalAttachment and Human Development
Volume22
Issue number4
Early online date3 Sept 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2020

Funding

This work was supported by the FWO Flanders (Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek) under Grant [1174917N]. We would like to thank Natasha Bargota and Olga Żejmo for providing double-coding of emotional behaviour for the current study. We also offer our sincerest gratitude to all care organisations and parents for their generous participation.

FundersFunder number
FWO Flanders
Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek1174917N

    Keywords

    • behavioural observation
    • Parent-child attachment
    • severe or profound intellectual disability
    • significant developmental delay
    • skin conductance

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