admin 13 October, 2018 0

Psychological Impact Of Disability On The Family

The birth of a child is usually anticipated with so much expectations and excitement of a very happy and successful future not only for the child but also for the family at large. However, this excited might be muted by the birth of an infant with any kind of disability. It does not matter whether the handicap is retardation, blindness or physical abnormality. Families with members with disabilities cannot live a similar style of life like that enjoyed by other families that have got normal individuals. In most cases these parents are more sensitive to the needs of the disabled individuals. According to Gillam (1999) caring for people with disabilities is not always an easy job because these are normally considered to be delicate people who need extra care. For this reason disability could have various physical and psychological impacts on the family. This paper provided a discussion of various psychological effects of disability on families. Some background information will first be provided to give an overview of what disability is all about.

Background Information

According to Marinelli & Orto (1999) the rate of disabilities in families has relatively reduced compared to the situation 50 years ago. The introduction of immunizations and improved medical care has also helped a great deal. However, statistics has it that in regions such as the UK, a child is diagnosed with some kind of disability every 25 minutes. Over 95% of those diagnosed with disabilities either live with their family members of their children. Another country that faces the same problem is Australia.

A person’s body is a very important part of their identity and self perception and even extends to the identity of the family. In most of the time, a family with a disabled individual will always receive similar perceptions from the society like the ones given to the disabled person. The disability is therefore normally considered in terms of the larger family. Although some people could be borne normal but later become disabled either through sickness or accidents, most of the disabilities are normally realized at birth. Family members of disabled individuals normally have an extra burden of not only taking care of their individual needs but also for the needs of the disabled in the family (Gillam, 1999). Most people in such situation would tell you that it is not as easy as most people might think. It requires sacrifice and determination.


Giving birth to a handicapped child and taking care of him to grow into adulthood is one of the most stressful things a family could endure. The first reaction by parents on realization that their child is disabled tells it all. According to Strnadova (2006) most parents are normally in shock and wish that they could reverse the whole process. It also creates a confused situation of guilt, anger, sadness, depression all in one that some parents begin lamenting to God what wrong they might have done. Depending on the conditions of the parents, they handle these issues differently and could stay in different stages of depression longer than others.

Some parents feel like the handicapped children are their extension and may feel ashamed, ridicule, embarrassment or social rejection. The reactions by parents might be affected by economic status, marital stability and personality traits. Generally, the initial reaction of any parent would therefore be of psychological or emotional disintegration (Marinelli & Orto, 1999).

In instances where an individual was living normally and later becomes disabled, denial is normally the first psychological impact in the family. Some members refuse to accept that things have changed and their loved one is now disabled. This is very difficult especially when the person is the first one in the family to suffer from such a disability or when he is the sole bread winner and the family cannot comprehend how it will survive the next day. In situations where the family does not know much about the illness, they could also become very pessimistic about the future and act like the illness has control of their entire destiny. Although no one really checks on the parents to find out whether they get enough sleep or spent most of their time at night checking on their disabled children, research has it that families with disabled members also suffer from exhaustion and anguish.

After denial there is usually a gradual acceptance of the fact that the family member is truly disabled. The family then tries to come up with better ways of dealing with the issue because there is nothing else they could do. The acceptance stage could taking varying durations does not necessarily lead to the acceptance of the disability. Marinelli & Orto (1999) explains that sometimes members could just decide to minimize the psychological balance to an achievable degree and deal with the person. In cases where parents completely fail to accept this fact, they could even abandon the individual or give them for adoption. This is the reason why there have been cases of parents throwing their children in pits or abandoning them on the road side as demonstrated in some developing countries. There is the realization stage is where parents or family members fully accept the disability of their loved ones regardless of its consequences. However, not every family reaches this stage.

Strnadova (2006) argues that many families consider taking care of an individual with disability in terms of the cost they will have to incur throughout the existence of the disabled individual. This process could sometimes be costly that if a family is not well prepared it could lead to debts and loans. For instance, if a family member suffers from down-syndrome or Cerebral Palsy, he will definitely require some medication, counseling, therapy, physiotherapy or rehabilitation. All these services need money which is not always easy to come around. This could therefore lead to the family making use of every single cent they have just to see their own survive. Some could even end up borrowing from family members or asking for loans from their banks but there is always a limit to where you can source money from. If a family faces the dilemma of not knowing where next to turn to and ask for money, it’s normally very frustrating and hurting to know that you could make life more comfortable to a family member if only you had the money but the reality is that you have none.

Having gone through many dead ends to find assistance for their loved ones, family members often become worn out and might be discouraged to look for a different approach for assistance because they might be scared of facing yet another failure (Strnadova, 2006). This might create a feeling of hopelessness in the family in that they feel like they can no longer take care of their loved one and could even abandon him or offer him for adoption.

Stress in families with disabled individuals normally starts way back even before the disability is diagnosed. In most occasions, parents would suspect that there might be something wrong with the life of their child or family member. This normally appears in cases where the family members become disabled later in life after leading a normal life. For this reason members would request for examination from a psychologist to fully understand what might be wrong. Sometimes families with disabled members are isolated from the society like and this makes them feel like they are less equal. This could also make some of parents to feel like it is their fault that they gave birth to disabled children. What parents also fear most is the likelihood of the heredity of the disability to their future siblings. According to Power & Orto (2004) some might even get scared and feel like they do not want to have other children in future. They may also fear that they might have grand children with similar disabilities. They are also worried of what the future holds for their child with disability. The feeling of helplessness due to the fact that there is very little they can do to change the child’s disability makes them hate themselves.

The anxiety in family members stems from an attempt to strike a balance between their own life and that of the disabled individuals. A number of parents have talked of pain and anguish in their lives and their desire and hope to improve the lives of their loved ones even though sometimes it never possible. Single and unmarried mothers face more psychological problems than others. Considering that individuals with disabilities need extra care, it becomes cumbersome for one individual to keep watch of him and do his/her own duties. Disabled individuals could also be a huge burden to their own siblings especially because of the fact they require extra care (Power & Orto, 2004). This means that their siblings will have to forgo some activities and duties in order to take care of them. Unlike other children who might go playing up and down, they will be forced to offer extra care to their disabled brother or sister.

One thing most people don’t understand is that it’s nobody’s fault that they have disabled individuals in their families. However, most family members might not know how to react around such individuals and might decide to stay away. Sometimes the families might be reluctant to discuss with others about their members disability because they do really know how others would react. Fear of stigmatization from the society could make some families to hide these conditions for a long time (Warner, 2006). However, this is not always the best option because it implies that one is ashamed of a family member. A result of stigma is that the family ends up being withdrawn from the society because they are afraid of being hurt by comments or reaction from other people.

Shaw (2009) laments that sad as it might be, most people with disability are still socially unacceptable. It’s common to here whispers from all corners about families with disabled members as well as judgments being made behind closed door about how a disabled member might be behaving. Some even make comments that insinuate that the family is unable to take of their own blood and flesh. Some of these comments even come from close friends. Considering that every person might have his own opinion on how a family deals with the disability, it’s never an easy thing for a family that is trying so hard to remains brave and accept their member with his disability. When on outings, families with disabled individuals normally have to deal with stares, unpleasant gapes from both adults and kids. These annoying stares can inhibit the ability of family members especially the kids to freely interact disabled family members.

Sometimes family members especially parents have to deal with feeling of jealously from other siblings. For instance, you here of a child wishing that he was sick like his sister so that he could also receive preferential treatment from the parents. This feeling also disturbs parents psychologically and makes them feel like they are discriminating their children. Of course as you would expect there is always a good side of disability where one is treated differently and carefully more than others (Shaw, 2009). If not carefully done, it could also lead to misunderstandings in the family that could add to psychological problems.

Warner (2006) explains that some families with disabled children face so many difficulties that they even end up separating. In such a situation, kids are either split each of their parents or their custody could be awarded to one parent. Sometimes one parent in most cases the dad could run from the vicinity and disappear completely leaving the child in the hands of the other parent.


Families with disabled members need love and support from close friends and relatives. It is never their wish to give birth to disabled individuals. Its God will that everyone is the way he is and we should accept that and live with it. As the saying goes, disability is not inability. There are families whose brain winners are people with disabilities. As Gillam (1999) puts it these people could still be very useful to the family and the society at large unlike what people might expect. It is therefore important that families with disabilities are accepted as any other family so as to give them the moral to take care of their disabled members rather than isolating them.

It is also advisable that families with healthy and normal kids should teach their children on how to deal with other members of the society that might be living with disabilities. This will make everyone grow up with a good attitude and caring feeling for unfortunate members of the society. With increase in technology and innovation, disabled members could still survive and lead a normal life like others. Children should therefore not abandon their loved ones just because of their disability. We should all be thankful to God to whatever child he gives unto us because there are so many parents would wish to have a child but they can’t.


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