Objectives. Children with severe learning disabilities were identified by parental report as having a severe sleep problem (according to research criteria). A subgroup were considered by their parents to have no difficulty with their sleep pattern. The study aimed to investigate why sleeping problems of equal intensity should be a problem for one group of parents and not for another group, with a view to (a) establishing whether the families differed in the extent the child's sleep pattern affected the family and (A) identifying parent and child factors which may affect the parents' ability to tolerate the sleep problem.
Design. Three groups (matched for sex, age and duration of sleep problem if appropriate) of 13 were compared: children with no sleep problem (NSP), children with a recognized sleep problem (SP), and children with an unrecognized sleep problem (USP).
Methods. Mothers completed questionnaire assessments of the children's sleep and daytime behaviour and the mothers' sleepiness, coping style, stress and perceived control.
Results. The USP mothers and children are similar to the NSP mothers and children. Compared to the SP group, the mothers are less stressed, have increased perceived control and the children have fewer daytime behaviour problems. USP mothers and SP mothers are equally dissatisfied with their child's, and their own, sleep pattern.
Conclusions. USP mothers do not unrealistically deny that their child has a sleep problem but there are protective factors within the child and the parent which enable the mothers to tolerate sleep problems and suffer less negative effects. Implications for interventions arc considered.