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Parents' Reactions to Their Child's Disability (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

How parents respond when they have a child with a disability depends on many factors. One is the intensity and complexity of the disability. The reaction of parents whose child is diagnosed with a learning disability in third grade will likely be somewhat different from that of parents who learned two months after their child was born that she could not see.

Another factor affecting the way parents respond is how the information about the disability is shared with them. When such information is presented in a coldly clinical manner, without adequate sensitivity to the parents' emotions, their response can be quite negative. This is true even for mild disabilities. When one parent was told about her son's learning disability, she said, "Wait a minute. Stop and let me think. Do you realize what you've just said? You've just unraveled my whole way of thinking about my son. What do you mean a learning disability? What does that mean? Will it ever change? How can you sit there and keep talking as though it's no big thing?" A father related how he learned about his daughter's moderate intellectual disability. A physician simply said, "She's retarded. There's nothing we can do." The father left the office crying, partly because of the information and partly because of the insensitive way it had been communicated.

Yet another factor influencing a family's response to having a child with a disability is culture (Harry, 2002; Klinger & Harry, 2006; Obiakor, 2007). In some cultures, disability is a spiritual phenomenon that may reflect a loss of the soul or evidence of transgressions in a previous life. In other families, a child with a disability is considered a reflection on the entire family. In some families, a disability is accepted as just part of who the child is. In others, it is believed that a cure should be sought. It is important to listen to family members as they discuss their child to better understand their perspective on him as well as their response to ideas and suggestions that you and the rest of the team make.

One other factor that affects the parents' response concerns resources, including financial support (Lott, 2003). When parents have the resources necessary to provide what they believe is the best set of support services for their child, they are less likely to experience negative emotions. However, when parents know that their child would benefit from some intervention, such as surgery, a piece of computer equipment, or tutoring, they are invariably frustrated if they cannot provide that needed support and have difficulty accessing it from school and community resources. Another important resource is personal. In large families, families with many supportive relatives living in the same community, or families with a strong network of neighbors and friends, the stresses of having a child with a disability are greatly reduced. When parents are isolated or when friends and family are uncomfortable with the child, the parents will likely experience far more difficulties.

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