with Mental Retardation
Robert M. Hodapp
University of California, Los Angeles
Rearing a child with mental retardation challenges any parent. Besides the child's cognitive difficulties, children with mental retardation often have associated motor, medical, psychopathological, and other disabilities. So too must one consider the parents' emotional reactions and concerns. Parents of children with mental retardation must cope with having produced a “defective” child, a child who looks and acts differently from agemates. Such parental concerns reoccur throughout the child's life, culminating in the issue of how the adult with mental retardation will live when parents can no longer provide in-home care. And yet, difficult as such parenting issues are, many parents cope successfully with rearing a child with mental retardation. Different families vary in their styles of coping, specific child characteristics influence parental and familial reactions, and many formal and informal supports protect parents from depression and hopelessness.
Before the issues involved in parenting a child with mental retardation are reviewed, three preliminary concerns must be addressed. First, it is necessary to note the area's connections to the parenting of children without mental retardation. Theories of parenting derive from those used to conceptualize parenting of nonretarded children, and most studies compare parents of children with mental retardation with parents of nonretarded children. But many perspectives recently used to understand parenting typical children have only gradually been adopted within studies of parents of children with mental retardation. Complex models of how to think about parenting effects have only rarely appeared within the mental retardation literature; similarly, few mental retardation studies have examined complicated nature — nurture questions or parenting within a network of larger ecological systems (Collins, Maccoby, Steinberg, Hetherington, and Bornstein, 2000). In short, parenting studies within mental retardation, although related to the larger parenting literature, have yet to be influenced by some of the newest ideas from typical parenting and development.
A second related issue concerns the nature of the studies themselves. Many studies — particularly those of the 1960s and 1970s — examined parents and families of children who were “disabled” or