Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Parents' Competence and Social Skills in Siblings of Disabled Children

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Parents' Competence and Social Skills in Siblings of Disabled Children

Article excerpt

In this study we aimed to determine whether or not the siblings of children with disabilities have more emotional (stress levels) and relational (parental education levels, family functioning levels, relational and behavioral problems of children while at school), problems than do their peers. We selected 32 couples (16 with and 16 without children with low intellectual ability) and administered self-report questionnaires. Results confirmed the association between family characteristics and the emotional and relational difficulties of siblings of children with disabilities. In our analysis of the relational experience of siblings, a significant difference emerged in comparison to their peers in families with nondisabled children.

Keywords: family, disability, children, parenting, parental competence, siblings, social skills.

The models that have guided theoretical formulations and research on family are numerous and not easily summarized, but in recent decades the family stress and coping theory and family developmental orientation have come to be considered conceptual guidelines, describing the mechanisms underlying family development and change. To explain how and why an event can become critical in the evolutionary history of a family, family stress theory is based on Hill's (1949) ABCX model. Within this model, the magnitude of the crisis (X) comprises the interaction of three factors: A (stressor), B (presence of resources and capacity to use), and C (family members' perceptions of the stressful event and its severity).

Researchers of families with disabled children have clearly highlighted the discomfort experienced at various levels, by all members of the family, and the diverse and complex variables that are related to the phenomenon of disability within the family (Cuzzocrea, Larcan, Baiocco, & Costa, 2011; Cuzzocrea, Larcan, & Westh, 2013; Santamaria, Cuzzocrea, Gugliandolo, & Larcan, 2012). Therefore, the family's ability to address the events appropriately and overcome the critical moments is clearly linked to the availability and effective use of resources and coping strategies.

Although several authors (Weisner, 1993; Zukow-Goldring, 1995) have emphasized the importance of sibling relationship, and how this changes during the different stages of evolution, there are still few studies in which the cognitive, emotional, and social needs of siblings of children with disabilities, and their role in the family system, have been analyzed. Therefore, in this study we aimed to contribute to this area of research.

Siblings do not share just genetic inheritance, they also share a narrow set of interactions and horizontal transactions, which are fundamental to the development of social skills. Children, in the protected family environment, may begin to experience the ability to negotiate, cooperate, and compete well, which will serve them in the future for successful academic and social inclusion. Usually an older sibling plays a dominant role, and this position is generally confirmed and reinforced by parents. This relationship develops gradually over the years. In the situation where one of the children is disabled, the sibling relationship tends to be more adult in nature, with the nondisabled child acting in the dominant role (Stoneman, Brody, Davis, & Crapps, 1987, 1988).

The role of siblings of children with disabilities is very complex and it is influenced mainly by the family atmosphere, which can promote or inhibit the emotional involvement between siblings by giving, for example, excessive responsibility to a nondisabled child in the care and assistance of the disabled child, or showing exaggerated expectations especially at school. Cuskelly and Gunn (2003) identified in the nondisabled child responsibility for the care of the disabled sibling for the rest of life, thus inducing subconsciously, a negative emotional state and conflicting feelings in the nondisabled child. …

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