Graduation Year


Document Type

Ed. Specalist



Degree Name

Education Specialist (Ed.S.)

Degree Granting Department

Psychological and Social Foundations

Major Professor

Linda Raffaele-Mendez, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rose Iovannone, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jennifer Wolgemuth, Ph.D.


Challenging behavior, Families, Help-Seeking, Qualitative


Pre-school aged children experience challenging behaviors at a relatively common rate. Research shows that approximately 10–25 % of preschool-aged children engage in challenging behaviors to a greater degree than would be expected for their age (Lavigne, Gibbons, Christoffel, Arend, Rosenbaum, Binns, Sawon, Sobel & Isaacs, 1996). Problem behaviors are often the result of a child not following a typical developmental trajectory. Atypical development appears when a child either lags behind or jumps ahead of typical peer progress in physical, cognitive, behavioral, and social development or in adaptive life skills. When children with challenging behaviors are left untreated, their everyday functioning can become significantly impaired, and many will require more intensive supports and services over time (Kauffman, Mock & Simpson, 1996). The presence of chronic challenging behaviors negatively impacts important aspects of a child's development and puts him or her risk for a number of adverse circumstances over time, including a dysfunctional family life, conflicts within interpersonal relationships, alcohol and drug use, physical and sexual assault, suicide, academic failure, unsuccessful employment, and involvement with the justice system (Boulter & Rickwood, 2013; Durand & Hieneman, 2008). The purpose of this study was to develop a better understanding of the interventions parents try for their children. Including their thoughts, feelings and perceptions of each intervention. Previous research has provided insight into factors that influence parents’ help-seeking process and how parents begin the help seeking process (i.e., seeking formal or informal support). However, little is known about their thoughts, perceptions, and feelings towards the different types of interventions used and how they’ve affected their children's problem behaviors.

Qualitative methods were used to better understand their help-seeking journeys. The experience of 5 mothers raising children with complex and challenging behaviors were captured through open-ended interviews in this study.

The results of this study found several notable themes to emerge from the interviews of mothers raising children with atypical development. Specifically, several mothers reported a typical pregnancy and early development. Participants described a difficult first year with feeding their child, their child not meeting developmental milestones and having several unique quirks. Several parents also described their infant as experiencing higher rates of sickness when compared to other infants. Parents also described the age in which problem behaviors were first identified in their child, who first became concerned with their child’s behavior and their initial help seeking steps. Parents described behaviors of concerns including; difficulty eating, delayed speech and motor development and restricted interests. Themes emerged that described the parent’s process in seeking out early interventions for their child which included the evaluation process and the therapies that were first recommended to them. At the conclusion of the evaluation, parents were typically given a diagnosis. Themes emerged that discussed the parent’s initial reaction to the diagnosis and their self-driven research to find answers. All but one parent discussed taking their child to their pediatrician when they first had concerns. Through the school years, parents discussed the difficulties they faced in finding school based interventions and supports for their child. Some of the interventions included; medications, behavioral therapies, and occupational and speech therapy. With medication specifically, parents discussed their experience in trying to find the right medication.

This study provides a better understanding of the experiences of mothers raising children with complex and challenging behaviors. It also provides information on how practitioners can approach parents when and if they have concerns with a child’s development. In addition, data from this study supports the needs for increased advocacy, supports and services for these families.