What Is the Family's Role?
Families are an amazingly complicated phenomenon to study. So-called normal families display a variety of intricate interactions, both positive and negative. Most of us have strong reactions to and memories about our families. We can recall vividly good as well as bad times in our families. And it is not uncommon to receive very different interpretations of family dynamics from different members of the same family. Families that contain a member with learning disabilities are even more complicated. Just the extra time required to parent a child with learning disabilities can alter how parents and siblings interact with the child who has learning disabilities as well as with nondisabled family members.
For many years, the customary way of viewing parental reactions was to consider them in terms of stage theory—the notion that parents, on learning that their child has a disability, go through a set sequence of emotional reactions over a period of time. Much of the impetus for a stage theory approach comes from work done on reactions people have to the death of a loved one. A typical sequence of reactions, based on interviews of parents of infants with serious physical disabilities, is shock and disruption, denial, sadness, anxiety and fear, anger, and adaptation (Drotar, Baskiewicz, Irvin, Kennell, & Klaus, 1975). Although such a theoretical framework has been more popular when considering children with more serious disabilities, some professionals have used this model in working with parents of children with learning disabilities.
More recently, many researchers have rejected the idea of a fixed sequence of stages through which all parents of students with disabilities pass (Hammitte & Nelson, 2001). Some parents do not experience some of these stages; of those who do, not all experience them in the same order (Friend & Cook, 2003). Further, "within the same family, some members may have strong coping capabilities and others may need much more support because their own capabilities have not yet been developed fully" (Turnbull & Turnbull, 2001, p. 99).
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