Adolescence is generally viewed as a socially and psychologically challenging period of development. For young people with cleft lip, cleft palate, or both, these challenges can be magnified. How their parents react can add another factor into these children's outlooks.

An article in the January 2011 issue of the Cleft Palate Craniofacial Journal surveyed adolescents with cleft lip and/or palate in the United Kingdom between 11 and 16 years of age and their mothers. The exploratory study, using mail-in surveys, sought not only to elucidate factors predicting adjustment in these adolescents, but also to determine any relationship between the adjustments of members of the same family.

Social experiences were the main predictor of adjustment for adolescents; negative experiences led to poorer adjustment. Speech difficulties, particularly in being understood, and satisfaction with one's looks were the strongest indicators of psychosocial functioning for these young people. To a lesser degree, being male and using social withdrawal as a coping strategy also predicted a lower level of adjustment.

The mothers' level of adjustment proved to be a small but important association. Poor maternal adjustment was related to poor adolescent adjustment. Mothers' use of coping skills, such as self-blame, venting, and acceptance, were indicators of their psychosocial well-being. Stressful life events and perceived problems with their child's hearing were also predictive of a parent's adjustment.

The finding of perception of a child's hearing problems as an indicator for parents was unexpected. The authors theorized that this may connect to mothers' feelings of guilt or self-blame. Parental involvement in problem-solving may play a role. For instance, a parent can actively help a child with speech therapy, but is relegated to a more passive role with hearing difficulties.

The findings of this study may help identify and establish means of intervention to help adolescents with cleft lip/palate and their families. Targeted social skills workshops and coping effectiveness training can be timed appropriately to help reduce anxiety, increase confidence, and encourage flexibility, making families feel more in control of their situation.

Source: Allen Press Publishing Services