The Social Networks of Children with Disabled and Nondisabled Sibling
Susan M. McHale Wendy C. Gamble The Pennsylvania State University
The focus of this chapter is on the daily lives of school-aged children whose younger brothers and sisters have mental retardation. In particular we aim to identify the persons, such as nuclear family members, relatives, peers, or professionals, with whom these children come into contact. We are interested in how the presence of a handicapped sibling in the family affects the social networks of children and their mothers and, in turn, whether these altered network contacts have an impact on children's well-being. To begin with, we review previous literature that details the ways a disabled child potentially may affect the family as a whole, and then describe how these alterations in family life may modify family members' social networks. Following this discussion we describe our research, in which we compare the daily activities, family relationships, and personal well-being of school-aged children from families with and without a mentally retarded child.
The differences a handicapped child makes in a family most often have been seen as stresses that he or she creates in the lives of individual family members as well as in the workings of the family as a whole. The extent and nature of these stresses may vary with the family's situation as well as with the kind and severity of the handicapped condition the child displays. These stresses have been described as three different kinds of crises faced by