Maternal responsivity in interactions with handicapped infants.

J. Brooks-Gunn, M. Lewis

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73 Scopus citations


The present study investigated the influence of 3 infant characteristics on mothers' interactions with their handicapped young children. These 3 characteristics are chronological age, mental age, and handicapping condition. Maternal responsivity was hypothesized to increase with mental and chronological age and to be more closely linked to mental than chronological age. In addition, it was expected that handicapped group membership would be related to maternal behavior, but that many of these effects would be accounted for by mental age. 111 handicapped young children and their mothers were observed in a 15-min free-play session. The children ranged in age from 3 to 36 months of age and were classified as Down's syndrome (N = 56), developmentally delayed (N = 21), or cerebral palsied (N = 34). Maternal responsivity to their infants' behavior was explored for total behavior and for proximal and distal behaviors separately using proportion scores to control for overall levels of infant and maternal behavior exhibited. Infants but not mothers emitted more behavior in the free-play setting as the infants' mental and chronological age increased. As expected, mothers were more responsive proportionately to their infants' behavior as their children became more mature mentally and chronologically older, even after controlling for age-related increases in infant behavior. Since mental and chronological age were related, partial correlational analyses were performed. The age-related increases in maternal responsivity were accounted for by mental but not chronological age. Differences as a function of handicapped group membership also were found. Cerebral palsied infants exhibited less behavior than did the Down's syndrome and developmentally delayed infants. Mothers of developmentally delayed infants exhibited more responsive behavior proportionately than did mothers of the other 2 groups. However, this difference was due to the higher mental age of the infants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)782-793
Number of pages12
JournalChild development
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1984

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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