Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Factors that mitigate
negative impact of disabled children to normal siblings

(Part 3 of 4)

Siegel and Silverstein in their book, “What About Me? Growing up with a Developmentally Disabled Sibling” (1994), report several factors that mitigate the negative impact of disabled children on their normal siblings, including, the normal child’s age, gender, and birth order, as well as the family’s structure, economic status, and religion. 

As mentioned before, girls are expected to help take care of their disabled siblings more than boys, as care giving is perceived more as “girl chores.”  Older siblings are expected to help more, and older girls expected to act as “second string parents,” which us why they end up more stressed compared with other children in the family. Younger boys, who are not given the same opportunity to at least work together with their parents in taking care of their disabled siblings are often ignored, and get the least attention from parents (p. 28).

Studies indicate the importance of a good support system to those who care for the disabled.  It makes sense, then, how bigger families, including those with available extended family support, and two-parent families are able to cope better than those with only two children (with one being disabled), and a single parent. 

Children who come from poor families are less able to cope and adjust than those from the middle and upper class. Combined with higher educational attainment, parents from a higher economic status are often better informed about the disability (as they have access to better health care and computer generated information), and the means to pay for whatever will make their lives better. For instance, they can afford to pay special needs or respite camps where families with disabled children can enjoy nature and outdoor activities for a day or a weekend. 

The mother’s mental health and ability to parent have also been found to be an important factor in determining how well normal children adjust and cope in their unique family environment (Siegel & Silverstein, 1994, pp. 28-34)

Culture also plays a major role in the coping and adjustment abilities of families of disabled children. The predominant white culture is expected to be more tolerant and better equipped in handling their disabled children. They know that there are available resources for them to tap into. However, Asians who believe that having a disabled child is a sign of punishment for some parental misdeeds are found to be less able to adjust well as they tend to deny and minimize the problem. Latinos cope by having more children and African Americans show better coping abilities because of the support system provided by their extended family network. 

Religion allows parents and their children to see the disability as “God’s will,” and thus beyond their control. Their belief that the disabled child was sent to test their faith provide the rest of the family an opportunity to display their altruistic side. Their beliefs free them from the feelings of guilt and shame that often interfere with better coping (Siegel & Silverstein, 1994, pp 72-82, 86).

Next: Part 4: Recommendations

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