Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Adaptability and Cohesion of Greek Families: Raising a Child with a Severe Disability on the Island of Rhodes

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Adaptability and Cohesion of Greek Families: Raising a Child with a Severe Disability on the Island of Rhodes

Article excerpt


The target of the study is to compare the adaptability and cohesion between 30 Greek families raising a child with a severe disability and 30 families with children without disability. This study constitutes a qualitative survey with quantitative comparative elements. Data were collected using the Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scale (FACES-III) (Olson 1986) and semistructured interviews. The findings suggest that there is no statistically significant difference between parents of both research groups on the cohesion, adaptability dimensions of family functioning, on family type and in how they wish their family functioning within the categories of these two dimensions. Both groups of parents estimate and wish their family to function in the 'healthy zone' according to the revised edition of the Olson Circumplex Model (Olson 1991).

Keywords: adaptability; cohesion; disability; family functioning; periphery


Research on family therapy proposes two basic dimensions in family functioning: the sentimental cohesion, which refers to whether the members of the family feel isolated or close to their family, and the adaptability to changes (Olson 1993). Effective functioning of a family can be facilitated or, on the contrary, be prevented depending on its level of cohesion and adaptability (Minuchin, Rosman & Baker 1978). Adaptability refers to the family's ability to change in response to a stressful situation. Cohesion can be best character ized by alluding to the two concepts at the extremes of enmeshment and disengagement (Olson, Russell & Sprenkle 1980; Seligman & Darling 2007). Enmeshment and disengagement are both Minuchin's terms. Enmeshment refers to the loss of autonomy due to a blurring of interpersonal boundaries. Disengagement is the psychological isolation that results from overly rigid boundaries around individuals and subsystems in a family (Nichols & Schartz, 1998). The effective function of a family system needs both the element of stability as well as the element of change in order to balance harmoniously (Olson, Russell & Sprenkle 1980).

Research continues, but given our present state of knowledge, it may be misleading to draw firm conclusions about a family's interactions and function, especially about families who are raising a child with a disability. The presence of a child with a disability may impose multiple and profound effects on a family (Boyce & Barnett 1993; Seligman & Darling 2007) and is often considered a major stress factor in the family life (Mandleco et al 2003). Reviews of research on families and disability (Seligman & Darling 2007) or chronic illness (Knafl & Gilliss 2002) present a mixed picture of the findings concerning the impact of disability or illness on family life. In earlier research, it was assumed that such an event probably resulted in family dysfunction (Cornman 1993, cited in Knafl & Gilliss 2002: 185; Labbe 1996). Research (prior to the 1980s) generally assumed family dysfunction and pathological reactions were an inevitable result of having a child with an intellectual disability (e.g. Byrne & Cunningham 1985; Crnic, Friedrich & Greenberg 1983; Behr 1990, cited in Stainton & Besser 1998: 57). Numerous studies highlight negative aspects in the functioning of families with a child with disability. These aspects are: the family's low self-esteem, burdening the family's emotional resources and coping strategies, interrupting the normal routine of the family and depriving personal growth opportunities (e.g. Beckman 1983, Byrne & Cunningham 1985, Ditchfield 1992, Hadadian 1994, Hanline 1991, Mallow & Bechtel 1999, McLinden 1990 and Margalit & Ankonina 1991, cited in Wai-Ping Li-Tsang, Kwai-Sang Yau & Yuen 2001: 61).

Early intervention programs adopted a pathological approach in working with these families (Ray & Ritchie 1993; Singer & Irvin 1990, cited in Mandleco et al 2003: 366; Trivette et al 1990). …

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