The positives of being parents to disabled children: part 1

There’s a common cultural assumption that having a disabled child is a negative thing [1]. This is perhaps most noticeable when the child is born and friends and family offer sympathy rather than celebrate your parenthood.

This usually comes from a good place, of course - people’s first thoughts might be about how you’ll cope with the challenges coming your way. These expected challenges will vary from parent to parent depending on the individual needs of the child. Here are some common hardships that parents face:

  • Intensive or unpredictable childcare demands.
  • Difficulty getting the right support.
  • Changes to working arrangements (which can link to financial strains). [1]


But, despite all of these challenges and negative assumptions, two out of three parents say having a disabled child has been positive for their family, according to a 2015 study by the University of Alberta, Canada [1].

So what are the upsides? What do these parents mean by ‘positive’? Here are some common responses:

“Personal growth and stronger relationships between family members” [1]

It’s sometimes difficult to know how far people are willing to go to help you, especially when it comes at a personal cost to them. It’s times like this when you can really find out what your family are made of, and what they’re capable of in terms of support. Some family members can surprise you!

Having more help can also mean that you build better relationships with wider family members. Unlike the way families live in other parts of Europe, where wider families share more of everyday life together, in the UK we typically have what’s known as ‘nuclear’ families. That means we keep our ‘immediate’ family very close and the extended family at a distance, meeting up with them only at special events like weddings, birthdays and Christmas time. If your wider family break the nuclear pattern, you might find you have access to a wider pool of support.

Another thing about being British is that some of us might not be so good at accepting help; we often reject offers out of politeness or worry that we’re putting people out. By accepting help though, the relationship has a chance to develop in a way that it otherwise might not. Family members might even relish the opportunity to care for you in a practical way that they know you’ll appreciate.

Of course, this isn’t limited to family in the blood relative sense. This extends to friends that become very much part of your family network and community. For your child, broadening your community like this can really help them as they grow.

“Changes in perspective (e.g. understanding what is important in life and making the most of each day)” [1]

Some parents in the study described their perspective as ‘simplified’ (which is a goal that many self-help books are trying to accomplish), and were empowered with a stronger sense of priority. This could be down to the higher demands of attention and focus, which can cause all the fluff and minutiae of life to fade into the background. This fresh perspective is especially helpful for an “always connected” society of people whose attention is often pulled in a million different directions. If you’re experiencing this perspective shift, you might find that it extends to your relationship, giving you and your partner a new realisation of your strength as a couple. 

 References
 

[1] David McConnell, Amber Savage, Dick Sobsey & Bruce Uditsky (2015) Benefit-finding or finding benefits? The positive impact of having a disabled child, Disability & Society, 30(1), pp.29-45.

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