Early Childhood Intervention: Module One – Typical and Atypical Development

Overview of Family Adaptation

Just as different cultures experience disability in different ways, so do families. In some families there are a variety of stresses that come with having a child with a disability. In this section we present some of the family factors and dynamics that relate to this topic.

Most children with disabilities grow up within loving families. They share the joys and sorrows of family life with their parents, brothers, sisters.  While most children with disabilities live with their families, some children may be in foster homes or in hospital for a variety of reasons; e.g., some require specialized medical treatments; others live in places with little or no support for families.

How parents feel about having a child with disabilities may have an impact on how well they cope and adapt to everyday living with their child. This is because having a child with a disability is usually an unexpected event! How families adjust to disability vary. Sometimes it depends on the timing―when they found out about their child’s condition. It can also depend on whether or not a family has previous experiences with disability within their community. Both are important factors.

Families who have children with disabilities also have additional stressors in their life compared to other families. These include additional financial costs, and, at the same time, fewer opportunities for full-time work, resulting in lower family income. Approximately 29% of children with disabilities in North America live in households that are between the lower-middle and lowest income ranges (Hanvey, 2002)1.  Work can be stressful for parents because they often require time off due to  taking a child  to medical appointments or having to stay at home to take care of their more fragile child.

Recent research has indicated that often it’s not the child’s particular issue that causes stress (see full Glossary) for the family, but is instead dealing with systems to get services and support for the child that is incredibly stressful for families. At the same time, families are trying to provide the best for their child, including  a strong sense of community, a feeling of belonging, and having faith affiliation. In contrast, a higher proportion of risk factors make it more difficult for both these children and their families to cope.

1. see Reference

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