Positive aspects of parenting a disabled child

Many parents raising a disabled child report positive changes in themselves and their family, whilst also acknowledging the potential additional stress.

A study in 2017 (1) found key themes:

  • Increased sense of personal strength and confidence
  • Changed priorities
  • Greater appreciation of life
  • Pleasure in the child’s accomplishments
  • Increased faith/spirituality
  • More meaningful relationship
  • Positive effect that the child has on the wider community

The definition of positive is sometimes hard to pin down and there are conflicting views over whether personal positive growth is actual long-term change or perceived as a coping strategy, such as cognitive re-appraisal.

Early after diagnosis parents may display positive coping strategies, such as finding a silver lining or saying that others are worse off (positive reappraisal).  Over time this can lead to a deeper meaning making process and positive perceptions of parenting, however, this is always framed within a broader reality that incorporates positive and negative, sometimes simultaneously (2).  In line with literature on posttraumatic growth ‘it is important to bear in mind that the experience of growth is not the same as the absence of personal distress’. (3)

An online survey by affinityhub.uk has also shown positive aspects reported by parents, such as:

  • 63% of respondents reported a greater tolerance of their own child’s difference as well as in society as a whole
  • 70% of respondents reported feeling a fighting spirit on behalf of their disabled child
  • 75% of respondents reported feeling pride when they thought of their child

The stresses and worries of parenting a disabled child are well documented.  Fighting for limited resources, stigma and lack of social support are all factors that may affect our mental health. However, it is important to remember both sides of this reality and with support from others, particularly parents in the same boat, hopefully we can recognise the increased tolerance, empathy and resilience we develop as parents. This can only have a beneficial impact on our children and society as a whole. We are great advocates for our children and making the world a more accepting and tolerant place.

  1. Beighton, C. & Wills, J. (2017) Are parents identifying positive aspects to parenting their child with an intellectual disability or are they just coping? A qualitative exploration, Journal of Intellectual Disabilities, Vol. 21(4), 325-345
  2. Hastings, R.P. & Taunt, H. (2002) Positive perceptions in families of children with developmental disabilities. American Journal on Mental Retardation. 107 (2):116-127
  3. Calhoun, L. & Tedeschi, R. (2010) Facilitating Posttraumatic Growth: A Clinician’s Guide, Routledge: Oxfordshire, p.20