Reactions to the Birth of a Child with Disabling Conditions
Although there are similarities in the ways parents react to the birth of a child with a disabling condition, there are also many other factors that mitigate a wide range of parental responses. This article will examine those common attributes, as well as those factors that result in differential responses. Murray and Cornell (1981) posit that parental reactions at the birth of a child with disabilities are based upon the belief that the grief they experience is the result of the loss of an expected "normal" child. The type and degree of parental reactions are highly related to the degree to which the child's birth deprives the parents of their dreams and fantasies relating to the child.
Farber (1975) lists the successive adaptations in families when having a child with severe mental retardation:
- Labeling Phase. The family looks at the removal of the bases for the existing role arrangements and finds that major understandings underpinning family relationships may have to be renegotiated.
- Normalization Phase. The family makes a pretense of maintaining its normal set of roles. Family members try to be considerate of each other for role lapses in an attempt to keep family life as normal as possible. The family presents a face of normality to the outside and seeks to maintain liaisons with the world of normal families.
- Mobilization Phase. The family members intensify the time and effort given to family demands, without, however, giving up their claim to normality as a family.
- Revisionist phase. The family, in isolating itself from community involvements, can no longer maintain an identity of normality, and it revises age and sex standards in its organization of family roles. This revision represents an attempt to maintain cohesiveness in an uncaring and lack-of-understanding world.
- Polarization phase. The family, finding itself unable to maintain its coherence in a complacent or perhaps hostile world, turns its attention inward to seek the sources of this complacence or hostility within the family.
- Elimination Phase. The polarization eventuates in arrangements to preclude contact with the offending person himself. In this phase, the family seeks to renegotiate (with whatever resources remain) to regain those roles regarded as normal (p. 251).
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