Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Welcome to Holland: Characteristics of Resilient Families Raising Children with Severe Disabilities

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Welcome to Holland: Characteristics of Resilient Families Raising Children with Severe Disabilities

Article excerpt


This descriptive study sought to examine the resiliency factors families developed when faced with the challenges of raising a child manifesting a severe disability. The study compared and contrasted how families managed the additional responsibility and stress of raising a child with special needs. The study aimed to identify the key characteristics present in resilient families allowing them to not just survive but thrive, becoming in the process strengthened and resourceful. The study found that there is a relationship between resilience and level of socio-economic status (SES). The study also found that having the time and the ability to reflect was a key to reconfiguration, which is seen as crucial in the development of resilience. Once afforded this type of time, the families reconstructed their vision of family, of disability and their child. Lastly, the study found that the development of resiliency was enhanced by the development of rhythm in the family. Rhythm is defined in this study as the establishment of consistent rules, rituals and routines. *

Keywords: families; resiliency; disabilities; family systems; ecological; reconfiguration


The study of resilient families, their characteristics and dimensions has been a rich area of research for the past 20 years. However, family resilience research in the area of raising children with severe disabilities has not been as thoroughly researched. The present study aimed to redress this imbalance by observing the specific characteristics of resiliency displayed by these 20 families. In addition a detailed look at the context within which these families exist will uncover the variables that promote or prevent the development of resiliency in families.

Initial efforts to uncover resiliency characteristics began with research into individual resilience (Werner 1993, 1995). The focus of these studies was to isolate the characteristics that differentiated resilient from not resilient individuals. The results of these early studies formed a theoretical framework for understanding individual resilience by creating lists of 'resiliency factors' evident in those identified as resilient in the Werner longitudinal studies. While the Werner research is related to the investigation of family resilience, the findings of individual resiliency studies are not always easily generalized. Family resilience has been described as the family's ability to withstand hardships and rebound from adversity while becoming more strengthened and resourceful (Walsh 1998). Subsequent studies have identified resiliency as a set of characteristics possessed by families (McCubbin & McCubbin 1988) or a flexible process (Walsh 2003). McCubbin and McCubbin created a theoretical framework for understanding the different and more dynamic qualities of family resilience by identifying three family types: Balanced, Midrange and Extreme, with the former being the most viable. Within this family type there were two characteristics identified as important variables in the formation of the 'Balanced Family Type' in the McCubbin research. These were rhythm and regenerativity, which served to undergird the present investigation.

Rhythmic families establish rules, rituals and routines in their home. Rules, rituals and routines are defined as a communicated sense of what is expected of children by the parents (Knestrict, 2007). Rituals are defined as family efforts to consistently establish and practice routines with the purpose of creating family togetherness, regularity and predictability (McCubbin & McCubbin 1988). This research suggests that families able to establish these rules, rituals and routines are better able to develop feelings of closeness and that such bonding creates predictability (Luster & Okagaki 2005). These families are also seen as better able to demonstrate greater family satisfaction, closeness and flexibility. …

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