The role of illness representations in the coping and adjustment of children with asthma and their parents

Pamela Anne Spafford

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis

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The purpose of this study was to evaluate Leventhal, Nerenz, and Steele’s (1984) self-regulation model of adaptation to chronic illness when applied to children with asthma and their parents. The self-regulation model posits that illness representations influence coping, and via coping, adaptive outcomes. In the adult literature, illness representations or perceptions of symptoms, cause, time-line, consequences and control of illness have been found to be important determinants of coping and adjustment. No study, however, has examined illness representations in relation to coping and adjustment in children with a chronic illness or their parents. A second goal was to examine the influence of parents on the coping processes of their children. One hundred and twenty-eight children (7-13 years) with asthma and their 120 primary caregivers (96% mothers) were individually interviewed regarding their illness representations, and completed self-report questionnaires of coping and psychological adjustment. For both children and parents, illness representations had a direct association with psychological adjustment that was not mediated by coping. Children and parents who considered the child’s asthma to be a serious condition with frequent symptoms and serious consequences reported poor psychological adjustment, over and above any effect of the clinical severity of the illness itself. Parental illness representations and adjustment were significantly related to these same variables for children. However, after controlling for relevant demographic/asthma variables in regression analyses, only children’s illness representations remained significantly associated with parental illness representations. Children who demonstrated more negative illness representations had parents who also held more negative beliefs about asthma. These findings suggest illness representations to be an important target for psychological interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2004


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