Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Religion and Children with Disabilities

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Religion and Children with Disabilities

Article excerpt

The reaction of a family to being informed that their child has some form of disability can vary widely depending upon cultural traditions, emotional and family stability, economic apprehension, religious beliefs, and a host of other issues. The dynamics of these and other inter-related factors may range from anger, accusations and a refusal to accept the medical findings, to a need to identify the cause and a determination to provide whatever services are possible to overcome or at least ameliorate the condition.

The complexity of these factors has at times produced anecdotal and analytical reports, which subsequently have proven to be inaccurate. To illustrate, historical reviews of the literature on the impact of children with disabilities on their families describe long standing negative assumptions regarding divorce and marital satisfaction/discord in parents. Recent reports find, "a much smaller effect on parents' marital relationships (in these circumstances)." (1) "The idea that raising a child with disabilities has negative impact on the parents' relationship is still widely accepted despite contradictory research finds." (2)

As a consequence, health and social service providers are confronted with a mixture of values, beliefs, and needs of individuals with disabilities and their families. "The 'culture of disability' is a pan-ethnic culture for which a set of physician (and other provider) competencies are required to ensure appropriate, culturally sensitive care to persons with congenital or acquired disabilities." 3 For example, when it comes to accusations, traditional cultural beliefs can play an important role. Thus, the underlying cause of a disability may be perceived as: 1) a punishment for past wrongdoing, 2) "bad blood" caused by intermarriage or a family curse, or 3) supernatural forces, such as the "evil eye." (4)

"... the lives of individuals with disabilities around the world are usually far more limited by prevailing social, cultural, and economic constraints than by specific physical, sensory, psychological or intellectual impairments." (5)

Similarly, if the health/social service provider is to meet the needs of the child and family it is essential to have an appreciation of the critical role played by religion in a family's response to their child with a disability. However, the professional "... literature suggests that a majority of pediatricians believe that spirituality and religion are relevant in clinical practice, but only a minority gives them attention." (6) Practitioners' thoughts about spirituality and religion issues are associated with their personal involvement with these factors in their personal life. Some providers are uncomfortable with spiritual and religious issues and practices. (6)

Individuals with disabilities from the perspective of religion

"The lives of people with disabilities are shaped by their racial and ethnic status, their religion and their first language." (5)

Unfortunately, "limited research has been done on these intersections." 5 In addition, despite extensive records on the status of individuals with disabilities, the U.S. Census Bureau is unable to provide information regarding the affiliations with the various religious denominations by individuals with disabilities. (1)

Different religions (as well as different people within each religion) have inconsistent approaches and attitudes to disabilities ranging from acceptance of people with a disability as a gift from god(s) and therefore special, to rejection of those with disabilities as a punishment from god(s). While this varies by religion and family, attitudes can also vary by the type of disability. For example, individuals with HIV/AIDS, intellectual disabilities, psychiatric illnesses, and cerebral palsy are least accepted in some ethno-racial communities. (8) "The religious and cultural acceptance or rejection of disabilities has implications for accessing health or other support services for family members with disabilities. …

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