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

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.

Researchers comparing families with disabled and with nondisabled children, found contradictory results about the effects of child responsibility on nondisabled siblings (Larcan & Cuzzocrea, 2011). Thompson, Curtner, and O'Rear (1994) found no significant differences between the behavior of siblings of a disabled child and their psychological development, and that of their peers. In particular, there were no differences in the development of self-perception of their individual skills (see also Powell & Gallagher, 1993). However, results gained in numerous studies show the contrary, that is, a positive experience of living with a disabled child (Phuphaibul & Muensa, 1999; Williams, 1997). In view of these conflicting results, further research on siblings of children with disabilities is necessary.

According to Stoneman and Brody (1993), a younger sibling engaged in the role of caregiver, while experiencing anxiety, conflict, and the weight of parental expectations, does not seem to feel the presence of a disabled sibling negatively; indeed he/she seems to develop greater empathy and sensitivity to social issues. …

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