Blackwell Publishing Journal Backfiles 1879-2005
Background: Chronic illness and mental retardation are both associated with an increased rate of behavioural problems in children and with considerable emotional strain in families. The aim of the study was to analyse and compare the specific effects of two exemplary conditions on familial stress and coping. Methods: Forty-nine boys with Fragile X syndrome (FXS) were compared with 46 boys with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and 32 male controls. Intelligence was measured with the RAVEN or K-ABC tests. Psychopathology was assessed with the CBCL questionnaire and a structured psychiatric interview (Kinder-DIPS), parental stress with the QRS, coping with the F-COPES and social support with the F-SOZU questionnaires. Results: The mean age of the FXS boys was 8.6, of the SMA boys 12.7 and of the controls 11.2 years. The mean IQ was 47 for the FXS, 112 for the SMA and 103 for the control groups. According to the CBCL, 89.8% of the FXS boys, 21.7% of the SMA and 15.7% of the controls had a total score in the borderline or clinical range. The rates were 63.3%, 34.8% and 21.9% for internalising and 67.3%, 10.9% and 18.8% for externalising behaviour, respectively. 81.6% of the FXS and 10.9% of the SMA patients had a DSM-IV or ICD-10 psychiatric diagnosis. The most common were ADHD (FXS: 36) and Separation Anxiety Disorder (SMA: 4). In total, parental stress was significantly higher in the FXS than in the SMA families (and in both compared to controls). There were no major inter-group differences regarding social support and familial coping. Conclusions: Children with FXS are severely mentally retarded and have a high rate of mainly externalising disorders. Despite good coping abilities and social support, this is associated with high familial stress. The SMA boys, with an intelligence in the upper normal range, are no more deviant than their healthy controls. Parental stress is lower in the SMA families with good coping abilities. In conclusion, families with mentally retarded children are in even greater need of help than those of children with severe chronic illness/physical handicap. Abbreviations: SMA: Spinal Muscular Atrophy; FXS: Fragile X syndrome.
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