Parental Reactions Related to the Type and Degree of Disabilities (page 3)
Parents' expectations relating to their child may be influenced by different types and degrees of disabling conditions. Mental retardation may be one of the most difficult conditions for parents to accept. Parents may be "devastated" by this diagnosis, especially when they realize that their child is going to carry a stigma that has been highly related to isolation, dependency, and institutionalization in our society (Fewell, 1986a). In addition, Turnbull et al. (1988) indicate that a family's reaction to a specific type of disability may be influenced by their great values and general lifestyle. They describe the possibility that families with high achievement goals may react positively when having a gifted child. On the contrary, families that do not place great value on achievement and education may perceive the birth of a child with giftedness as a threat.
Families of a child with hearing or visual impairments may develop stronger social ties with other families facing the same disabling condition. It is not unusual that persons with severe hearing loss and their families get together to form a "deaf community." Part of the reason is that these persons and family members may feel more comfortable in using specific non-English sign language within their group. Turnbull et al. (988) describe different challenges for a family caused by different types of disabilities:
A child with a language impairment possibly could create problems for the family as it tries to establish meaningful, constructive communication; a child with health problems may require extended hospitalizations and expensive medications; and a child who is blind needs special adaptations in learning self-care and leisure skills. A family may do quite well with one exceptionality but not with another. (p. 85)
Many disabling conditions may have associated conditions or secondary/multiple conditions, such as speech/language/communication impairments, social disabilities, and behavioral disorders. The impact of having a child with a disability may be more difficult when the child displays maladaptive behaviors as well as when there are other family conflicts (Nihira, Meyers, & Mink, 1980).
The severity of disability is another factor with specific implications for parents. Children with mild conditions, such as learning disabilities and mild mental retardation, may not be identified until school readiness screening. This might cause parents to regret not having had the opportunity for early intervention. The advantage, however, would be that these children have been treated as normal throughout their infant, toddler, and early childhood years (Fewell, 1986a).
Once of school age, another advantage for children with mild disabilities would be a greater opportunity to be mainstreamed and integrated among other children without disabilities in the least restrictive environment. By this time, parental reactions may be varied, depending on each individual family's perception and experience relating to mild disabilities.
Fewell (1986b) indicates that parents of children with moderate disabilities may face ambiguity and feel puzzled or stressed, especially if at times their child is perceived as "normal," and at other times they are not. Generally speaking, families of a child with severe disabilities tend to experience more stress than those of a child with mild disabilities (Turnbull et al., 1988). However, children with severe disabilities are generally identified at birth or shortly after. Although the early diagnosis is often a source of great sadness accompanied with loss of self-esteem, feelings of shame, ambivalence, depression, self-sacrifice, and/or defensiveness (Roos, 1985), these children tend to receive early assistance and intervention. Parents and professionals need to consider the differential impact of different types and severity of disabling conditions. Accurate information provided for parents may decrease ambiguity, help parents to set appropriate goals and expectations, and start home intervention activities as early as possible (Fewell, 1986a).
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