“Why My Child?”: Parental Attributions for Children's Special Needs1


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    Preparation of this article was supported by a National Institute of Mental Health Training Grant (T32-MH16806). We thank Chris Davis for his comments on an earlier draft.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Kristin D. Mickelson, who is now at the Department of Psychology, Kent State University, P.O. Box 5190, Kent, OH 44242-0001. e-mail: kmickels@kent.edu.


Although research exists on how attributions for traumatic life events are related to adjustment, little has focused on parents’ attributions for their children's special needs. Parents were interviewed twice over 1 year about their attributions for their children's special needs. We used parents’ open-ended responses during the initial interview to construct a ratings survey for the second interview. Parents of children with Down's syndrome made attributions to genetic fluke, age, and fate/God's will; parents of autistic children made attributions to heredity and environment; parents of developmentally delayed children made attributions to medical problems and stress during pregnancy. Self-blame attributions and attributions to the environment were related to worse adjustment, whereas attributions to fate/God's will were related to better adjustment. Implications for family interventions and physicians are discussed.