‘ it is not the child’s disability that handicaps and disintegrates families; it is the way they react to it and to each other’ (Dickman & Gordon cited Haven, 1985, p. 109).
Parents today encounter a whole new world of challenges while becoming a parent. Parents encompass the responsibility of bringing up their child in a safe environment that adapts the physical, emotional and social growth of their children in today’s society. Families today and in the past may experience some form of stress or crisis within their lives which may have been in response to health, money problems, abuse, neglect, and several other situations which may have caused the family unit to fall apart or separate. Therefore it is not unforeseen that if a child with a disability is born into a family this may also drive families apart or into a state of continual crisis. This may not always be the case however as different families will experience numerous diverse responses to the acknowledgement of their child being born with or developing a disability. Studies have also shown that if a child with a disability is born into that family this may bring families closer together than ever before. Leyser, and Miller, cited in Batshaw (1994) state that individuals and families differ greatly in their response to having a child with a disability as it may depend on past life experience, religious and cultural backgrounds and the age of the child at diagnosis. This essay will explore the different responses families may experience during what Seligman (2007) calls the critical periods, which take into account of when the parents first learn or suspect that their child has a disability, school entry age, time of leaving school, and when parents become older. This essay will also aim to address the critical factors which must also be taken into account such as, the severity of the disability or disability type, the relationships within the family, such as marital status, family structure, socio – economic well being of the family, education of the family and the personality of the individual parent. In addition this essay will endeavour to address some of the psychological theories which have attempted to explain the reactions of families who have given birth to a child with a disability.
‘ When Aidan was newly born, “Down Syndrome” was all I saw when I looked at him. But now I see that the Syndrome is just a small part of who he is and what he will become’ (Dwight cited in Milgram 2001, p. 153).
Giving birth to a child, can be a nerve-racking and emotional time for any parent. Every parent will have high hopes and expectations that their child is born, a perfect and healthy baby into this world. It is difficult as a result to imagine the magnitude of mixed feelings that the family must go through after giving birth to a child with a disability, feelings such as grief, sorrow, loss, depression, disappointment, concern, lack of knowledge of the disability, lack of control, attitudes, egos and perhaps embarrassment. The mother may see the birth as a diminishing of self esteem and may ask why she was unable to create a perfect child. The family may also be in denial or reject the baby at first. As the child with the disability spends the first few weeks of his or her life in neonatal intensive care units this may hold back on parent – child bonding. Alternatively the mother and family may nurture the baby immediately and not feel anything but love for their new born child. Studies have shown that the most critical and complex time is when the parents first receive the information or suspicion that their child has a disability. According to Seligman, (2007) a survey partook by Quine and Rutter, reported that 58% of parents that were surveyed were dissatisfied with their physicians and the communication of diagnostic information given at the time, as...