The purpose of the present study was to examine mothers’ internal representations of experience with their developmentally disordered children. Maternal perceptions of children have been considered important in clinical work with developmentally disordered children and their families. Using developmental disability sample of 17–34-month-old children, we compared mothers’ representations of their children in clinically referred and not referred groups, using the Working Model of the Child Interview. Twenty mothers of children with developmental disorders and twenty matched controls participated. Six (30%) children of experiment group had a diagnosis of cerebral palsy; 5 (25%) were diagnosed with Down’s syndrome, while the remaining 9 (45%) had a diagnosis of mixed specific developmental disorder. Many children with disability also were diagnosed with heart disease, epilepsy, and hydrocephalus. Maternal representations’ measures were compared to their self-perceived impact of child disability on family, their sensitivity to child, and some demographic and family characteristics. Compared to controls, mothers of children with developmental disability had representations of their children that were significantly more likely to be classified distorted or disengaged (χ2=7.24; df=2; P<0.05). More severe disability status was significantly associated with mothers’ disengaged representations, fear for safety of children, and intensity of involvement in care giving (P<0.05). The study did not confirm relationships between maternal representation classifications and their self-perceived impact of child disability on family. No differences were found concerning mothers’ emotional empathy index in clinical and control groups. The differences in mean emotional empathy scores were related to many aspects of maternal internal representations and to some areas of self-perceived stress. The results of Working Model of the Child Interview did not correlate with child age and gender, birth order, and parents’ level of education.
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