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When disability happens in the family, everyone is affected--which means everyone has the chance to help.

By Raydon L. Reyes

JULY 2012

Disability can initially be devastating. This applies both to the disabled person as well as his family. “The [coping] process unfolds in the same sequence for the disabled individual or [his] family members, who must also adjust and cope,” writes Kevin Vincent in his academic article “Coping with Disability: the Individual or a Family Member’s,” published in Social Behavior and Personality. Applying a few universal coping skills to one’s family can spell the difference between successfully dealing with the situation and giving in to despair. 

Some form of denial that a family member has a disability is common, says Zachele Briones, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist from Psychconsult. “It doesn’t help when the disability is not manifesting physically, such as in learning disabilities.” 

Airing out one’s feelings is an important step to take. Dr. Briones states, “It would be really good if the parents could talk to each other about how they feel about the child with the disability. Spouses should share their hurt feelings, their dreams for the child, their doubts, and what they can still hope for.” Therapists such as psychiatrists or psychologists can help facilitate this process.


What families can do

According to Vincent’s article, the next step would be becoming your own primary therapist and teacher. He writes that gaining knowledge about the problem empowers the family by giving some control over the condition “in a psychological sense or a real sense.” 

This then leads to a valuable stage in coping: seeking out who can help and how much they can do so. Vincent writes, “All individuals are aware of who cares. Finding out who is a knowledgeable helper depends on the degree to which the individual has successfully completed the previous stage of finding out about the problem.” 

Dr. Briones advises families to look for others who have dealt with the same disability. This allows them to share notes about what works and what doesn’t. She recommends going to support groups like those for cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and the like. 

What families need to remember, though, is that coping is a lifelong process. You can’t just sign out of it once you’ve done your part. It’s a different life that requires a new perspective. When acceptance is finally reached, “the individual, who has accepted his or her limits and is aware of his or her potential and support systems, then begins to be able to cope with the rest of the world, including family and friends,” Vicent writes.

For more about living with disabilities, get a copy of the July issue of HealthToday, out now in bookstores and newsstands.

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