This paper explores the challenges in parenting a child with a special need. The conditions mentioned
in the paper are autism and intellectual disability It is compared with parenting typical /children with
no special needs. As parenting itself has different styles ,and as same parent parents differently across
the life span, parenting is considered moreover an art .It become rather challenging and compromising
when dealt with a special child like a child with autism .
Key words: Parenting, Special children, Typical children
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Parenting as an experience is pleasant and exceptional, but at times it could become strenuous if the
demands out pass the resources. Many a time care givers are at risk of developing secondary symptoms
such as physical and mental ill health. As we all know, the mental ill health can range from minor
mental skips to even severe depression. Many studies reports that mothers of autistic children have
sleepless nights for years which make them vigilant and worried, which could eventually dump into
cardiac or mental upsets. Too much involvement in child rearing especially if the tasks are less enjoyed,
could affect her sense of identity . So forth, calls for a moderate level of involvement in the task which
could boost her self esteem as well as the child’s.
Each of us had experienced stress at one time or other in our lives. But the stress experienced while
upbringing one’s offspring is often denied. It is viewed as a responsibility instead. And so , for some
parents this stress is eustress but for others it is distress. For the majority it is between the two extremes.
Even in parenting a so called normal child, the parent has to undergo a life phase which he or she is
rarely exposed to . Right from anticipating the baby, the parents especially mothers have doubts
regarding different aspects of baby’s life like its health, possible expenses and so on. Once the baby is
born, she starts worrying about her inexperience in the task at hand .The stress can mount to the peak if
she is employed, migrant, lacks support, economically backward or if the child was diagnosed as
congenitally ill .
All impose severe identity crisis and role restrictions even in knowledgeable parents.
In some conditions, as in the case of physical challenges, the child needs physical reassurance
and support from the parents against those conditions of cognitive deficits in which the demands
are always parent’s constant attention and feedback. As far as autism is concerned, the child’s deficits
are many namely social, emotional, communicational, sensual, as well as behavioral.
Symptoms are usually identified between one and two years of age. Long lasting problems may include
issues in creating and keeping relationships, maintaining a job, and performing daily tasks.
Here the parents have to constantly shift their focus across these domains so as to make the child lighter
and better. Here the parenting stress is not solely due to the management of child’s behavior. But it is due
to the financial requirements, social requirements, inter personal requirements and socio demographic
requirements posited for the activity.
Both parenting stress and perceived parenting stress are higher for the parents with ASD children. Even
though in most of the studies no difference were found between the parents of Intellectually Disabled
and ASD children on parenting stress, much higher a difference was found between these groups and
parents of typical children. Perceived parenting stress and quality of life of the mothers of special
children were compared with that of the mothers of typical children (Kalarani KS, Dr Raakhee AS,
Reshma SS) and found that perceived parenting stress was higher for special child’s mother where as
within group differences were not significant ie between the mothers of children with ASD and
Intellectually Disabled. In quality of life, special and typical mothers differed in physical aspect at 5
percent level. Depression, Anxiety and Marital discord are often reported as outcomes of disability stress
Contextual factors associated with enhanced parental mood was studied by Colin G. Pottie
et al and found that emotional and instrumental supports improved the moods but unsupportive aspects
as well as child behavior which is disruptive depressed the mood.
Parenting so called normal children requires usual parenting skills like being a good model, managing
one’s own emotions, being an authoritative , inculcate moral skills, responsibility skills ,social and
emotional skills and so on. Shared aspects are minimum when both types of parents are compared. Its
known that perceived stress often influence the coping. Stress dealing varies with respect to individual
competencies, environmental resources, immediacy, multiplicity and chronicity of the events. Difference
in the stress perception can either be due to the differences in the psychological make up or be due to
the importance given to the stress. Mediating factors are often the financial and the feeling of control
over the event.
Parenting stress will be higher during initial stages of diagnosis when’ ambiguous loss’(Pauline Boss)
emerges and the five stages of coping accompanies. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and
acceptance all can be noted. Parents go through stages of adjustment before accepting the fact that their
child is special. If parents, for some reason or another could not come out of the denial, could find
difficult in complying with the ongoing treatment and evaluations. On the other hand, if they accept the
condition, interventions, secondary preventions and rehabilitations could sooner be initiated. Depression
and anxiety are often noted among the parents of Intellectually Disabled and ASD. Lack of awareness,
lack of resources and lack of effective social networks breed depression. For parents of Intellectually
Disabled children, as they are aware of the incapacitating condition of the child, and as the child could
reciprocate to at least a minimum level the possibility of developing an emotional bond with the child
still exists. This less happens with a child with ASD. According to DSM 5, Intellectual Disability, is a
developmental problem characterized by impairment in intelligence and adaptive behavior.
Intelligence Quotient will be below 70.As inAutism Spectrum disorder, where we have low functioning,
moderate functioning and high functioning autism, there are gradations of adaptivity like mild, moderate,
severe and profound in Intellectual disability also. So parenting aspects also varies across these
continuums. Parenting is demanded even more than twenty four hours. Here time management and
roles managements are compromised. Partner issues are often reported by some but some reports that
new and strong bond wiith the partner develops because of the disabled child. Identity dilemma would
be more for the parents of specialchildren as, the self differentiation of parent from the child is
happening slow (psychological theories) Interview reports of mothers of thirty special children (Kalarani
KS, Dr Raakhee SS), reveals that majority of the ASD mothers hopes that their child could one day at
least communicate with them. Most of the ID mothers hope their child could take care of themselves.
Even though most of the mothers did not report a perceived stress in parenting, many of them shared
anxiety’s and worries about their child’s future and a lack of earning for themselves. On the other hand
typical children’s mothers worry were around their child’s higher studies, behavior nuances and
problems with attaining jobs.
Cultural variations do affect disability to some extent. In some cultures women considered responsible
for giving birth to a child who is disabled. In the studies which compared both parent’s stress
levels, mothers scored more. Some other studies also shows that not only did the partner support
decreased the perceived parenting stress but also increased the quality of life. This is true for the
typical children’s parents as well.
The gender of the disabled child influence the stress as reported by some studies( Vidya Bhushan et al )
but other studies don’t support the hypothesis .No difference in perceived stress with respect to gender
found in a study conducted among mothers of special children (Kalarani et al 2018 ).Mental and
Physical health are the other variables to be considered. More than an absence of mental illness like
depression, it’s a complete psychological wellbeing. The coping skills we adopt, defense strategies we
use and our perception of control over our life all add on to a full psychological wellness. Although we
have problem focused coping, confrontative coping, emotion focused coping, positive reappraisal and all,
The tendency to use avoidance coping or emotion focused alone seems to decrease the wellbeing of
mothers of toddlers(Abdulla Faido et al) whereas problem focused one increase it. From studies we can
infer that positive reappraisal and confrontation are to be used by the special children’s parents(Micheal
E. Dunn, et al,2001)The author further insist problem focused style and social support seeking reduce
depression. This is also applicable to the mothers of Intellectually weak children and the mothers of
typical children. Defense styles are the mental mechanisms we use in the face of severe stressors where
we detect that the protection of our ego is at risk. There are around forty four defense styles among
which one we can choose at a point of time. Among them are immature, mature, and neurotic.
Among these also no guarantee that a person uses a particular type of defense alone ( eg mature). Because
according to the experts defenses has their own evolutionary cycle across the age and development
(Cramer,2009).Some Indian studies shows that self sacrificing defense mostly used by the
mothers having ASD children(Sajna AS, Kalarani KS,2015).No difference was noted between these
group of mothers in distorting of image, maladaptive and adaptive defenses .This study also explored
the mental health of the mothers having children with autism and the mothers having normal children
and it was found that they did not differ in the variables reality perception, personality integration,
orientation to group and mastery of environment. But in the variable autonomy, the mothers with
typical children differed. Use of denial often compromises the Improvement in ASD or Intellectually
Disability. Continuous use of immature defenses can be avoided to prevent self harm. This is applicable
to parents of all three groups who face stresors in their life. Sublimation and humor along
with seeking support can be used instead.
Inclusion starts from the parents of exceptional children becoming aware of their challenges, personal
limitations and financial constrains. The experience as of now which is unique should become a shared
one by facilitating their positive reappraisals.
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Hodapp, R. M. (2004). A Model for Socialization Studies in Mental Retardation? Parenting, 4(4), 325-
Pottie, C. G., Cohen, J., & Ingram, K. M. (2008). Parenting a Child with Autism: Contextual Factors
Associated with Enhanced Daily Parental Mood. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 34(4), 419-429.
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