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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Children’s understanding of emotionally, mentally, and physically handicapped behaviours and related mental health concepts : a developmental study Maas, Elizabeth


Ninety children from grades 2, 4 and 6 responded to a multiple choice Mental Health Concepts Questionnaire and to interview questions concerning characters in cartoon strips who displayed mentally retarded, crippled, neurotic, and autistic behaviour. All children were administered the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT). Questionnaire special response scales and interview comprehension scores were analysed by 3-level 1-way ANOVAs; comprehension scores were also analysed by 1-way repeated measures ANOVAs; Qualitative interview data were coded and then analysed by ANOVAs of proportions. Favorability data for each character were analysed by a.3-way between-within ANOVA. Pearson correlations revealed significant relationships among total questionnaire scores, comprehension scores and PPVT scores at all grade levels. Six questionnaire special response scales suggested several patterns. Grade 2 children tended to associate mental health concepts with medical terms and to believe conditions could change with effort more than higher grades did. With age, children were less likely to perceive behaviour as attention-seeking and more likely to associate behaviour with familial factors. Grade 4 children associated retardation and mental illness with inability to change more than children in the other grades did. Increasingly with age, children associated terms which include the word "mental" with retardation. Interviews elicited responses to questions on etiology, control and change for the four behaviours. Children shifted from believing that behaviours were self-induced to perceiving behaviours as reflections of environmental influences. Grade 2 children believed the characters would outgrow their behaviours or could change their behaviours through effort. Grade 4 children, more than children in the other grades, tended to cite the role of environmentally-initiated help in facilitating change. Effort, self-reflection and environmental reinforcement were major channels of change suggested by grade 6 children. Autistic and neurotic characters were rated less favorably than the crippled or retarded characters. Results were considered within a social-cognitive developmental frame-work. Grade differences reflected the young child's cognitive decentering and increasing exposure to social attitudes. By grade 6, many children have adopted prevalent adult attitudes toward emotionally disturbed behaviour.

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