Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Psychology


This research explored the responses of people to giving birth to and parenting children with developmental disabilities. Two issues in particular were investigated: the construct pole preferences of parents and their emotional states. The content of the most influential self-referring constructs was obtained, along with the content of the structural triggers of the emotional states.

Based on a literature review from various theoretical frameworks, along with personal construct psychology, I developed a preliminary personal construct model of the adaptation process to giving birth to and parenting children with developmental disabilities. This model was tested and elaborated from qualitative and quantitative analysis of interview data collected from 81 participants. It was a longitudinal study with the first data collection being within 6 to 24 months of the diagnosis and the second data collection being 18 months later. A matched control group of 81 parents of children without disabilities was interviewed on both occasions.

The results indicated that parents of children with developmental disabilities did experience significantly higher levels of cognitive anxiety, death, mutilation, separation, guilt, and shame when compared with parents of children without developmental disabilities. The participants who could incorporate the event into their preferred way of viewing life, experienced less anxiety compared with parents who perceived themselves as being on their non-prefened construct poles.

The adaptive process was most effective when parents experienced themselves as having been de-railed by the events from their preferred construct pole and reconstrued life. In so doing they moved again to their preferred construct pole. This group of parents indicated no significant difference in the levels of their negative emotions compared to parents who gave birth to children without developmental disabilities.