Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling and Psychological Services

First Advisor

Dr. JoAnna F. White, Ed.D. - Chair


A child with a severe disability intensifies the demands facing a family (Beck, Hastings, Daley, & Stevenson, 2004; Martin & Baker, 2001; Withers & Bennett, 2003). Mothers specifically face an intense challenge, a concern as a mother’s wellbeing directly impacts her child’s emotional well-being (Kobe & Hammer, 1994), physical development, and progress within treatment (Lessenberry & Rehfeldt, 2004). These challenges are further heightened for women living in rural communities as little has changed for individuals with disabilities in rural communities over the past twenty years (Letvak, 2002). Although heightened stress among these mothers is significant, it is unclear how best to minimize stress and facilitate adaptive coping and resiliency among these women. This qualitative dissertation was an exploration into the stressors, coping resources, and resiliency of rural mothers of children with severe disabilities. Ten mothers of children with severe disabilities living in rural, Southeastern communities participated in a semi-structured interview. Supplementary sources of data include member-checking interviews, participant observation, and reflective journaling. Data derived from these sources include stressors, coping resources, and resiliency factors. Identified stressors include the absence of services, the insufficiency of available services, the effort required to locate and access services outside the community, social stressors, financial demands, and stressors stemming from personal attributes. All of the coping strategies listed by the participants shared similarities with those utilized by mothers of children with special needs not living in rural areas (Baun, 2002; Ferguson, 2002; Keller, & Honig, 2004). However, social support and spirituality, two identified coping techniques, are highly reflective of traditional, rural culture (Letvak, 2002; Nordal & Hill, 1999; Slama, 2004b; Wagenfeld, 2003). The mothers also identified their primary sources of resiliency to be external to them, their child/family service providers or God. All of the participants had recommendations for additional, beneficial resources for themselves and their children. These results are informative and significant to research, practice, and advocacy. Ultimately, it is hoped that this study may assist in empowering members of this marginalized group, advancing beneficial governmental policies, and informing interventions to enhance the wellbeing of these mothers and children.