Topical Review: Integrating Findings on Direct Observation of Family Communication in Studies Comparing Pediatric Chronic Illness and Typically Developing Samples.
OBJECTIVE To examine dyadic and systemic family functioning across several domains (conflict, cohesion, and stress) in families of preadolescents with spina bifida in comparison to families of able-bodied preadolescents (8- and 9-year olds; n = 68 in each sample). METHODS Mother-, father-, and child-reported questionnaire data and observational ratings of family behavior were employed. RESULTS Findings revealed significant group and socioeconomic status (SES) differences, particularly for the observational family data. Compared to families of able-bodied children, families in the spina bifida sample were less cohesive and children from this sample were more passive during family interaction tasks. Additional analyses suggested that some of these significant associations between group status and family functioning were mediated by verbal IQ, indicating that a significant portion (42%-55%) of the overall group effect was due to variations in child cognitive functioning. Lower SES families demonstrated higher levels of observed mother-child conflict, less observed and perceived family cohesion, and more life events. Lower SES families from the spina bifida sample appear to be particularly at risk for lower levels of family cohesion. CONCLUSIONS Findings for the spina bifida sample support a resilience-disruption view (Costigan, Floyd, Harter, & McClintock, 1997) of systemic functioning in families of children with pediatric conditions.