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The family with a handicapped child.

edited by Milton Seligman, Allyn & Bacon, 160 Gould Street, Needham, Mass. 02194, (617) 444-4600. 412 pages, @l 991. $41.95.

The following excerpt from Chapter 6, Fathers of Children with Special Needs, has been reprinted with permission from the publisher. IMPLICATIONS FOR INTERVENTION

Because of the way in which much of the research on fathers of children with special needs has been conducted, we know little about the extent to which paternal reactions to the diagnosis of retardation affects the reaction and adjustment of their spouses, or about the effects of their reactions and behavior on the socialization and development of the children concerned. Based on the limited evidence available, we can only speculate about these. As already noted, when fathers reject children with special needs, they create an emotional distance between themselves and their children, reducing the likelihood of positive effects on child development while increasing the likelihood of deleterious ones. Likewise, adverse reactions by fathers can increase the burdens borne by their wives. This can have the effect of straining marriages and affecting the personal satisfaction of mothers. This, in turn, may lead to harmful consequences, not only to children with special needs but to other family members as well. An unhappy, overextended, and isolated mother is likely to be a poorer mother for all her children, disabled or not.

Whether or not the father's reaction exacerbates the family's difficulty in adapting to a child's disability, there is reason to believe that intervention efforts should be directed toward fathers more systematically than they traditionally have been. Meyer suggested the following ways in which intervention programs could extend services to fathers of children with special needs. Staff Attitude Toward Fathers

Programs will not be successful in increasing paternal participation unless staff members believe that fathers are important, expect them to be involved, and treat them as equal parents. This means addressing correspondence to both parents, not just mothers, with separate mailings to fathers when parents are divorced or separated. It also means adapting brochures, newsletters, and advertisements to appeal to fathers as well as to mothers and providing male staff members in order to facilitate fathers' comfort.

Flexible Scheduling

Evidence of a program's attitude toward fathers will be reflected in its staff's willingness to maintain a flexible schedule in order to accommodate employed fathers and mothers whose work schedules may interfere with participation in weekday parent programs... Programs Specifically for Fathers

A still small but growing number of groups provide fathers with opportunities for support, education, and involvement with their children who have special needs. One of the longer running such programs is the Seattle-based SEFAM (Support Extended Family Members) Father's Program. Seeking to address the concerns of traditionally underserved family members, SEFAM staff implemented workshops for fathers, siblings, and grandparents of children with special needs. The Fathers Program, a biweekly Saturday morning program, provides fathers with opportunities for peer support, information reflective of their interests, and involvement with their children. A study of the families participating in the Fathers Programs revealed that fathers who participated reported less sadness, fatigue, pessimism, guilt, and stress resulting from their child's incapacitation, as well as more satisfaction, greater feelings of success, fewer total problems and better decision-making abilities than did similar fathers of children with special needs. Generally held on Saturday morning or on evenings convenient to participants, such programs include three primary components:

1. Information - Fathers of children with handicaps need information to answer questions about disabilities and their potential impact. By obtaining information on programs, services, and therapies, fathers can share with their wives the role of expert concerning their children and the implications of their disabilities. This not only helps fathers encourage their children's development but provides support for mothers as well. Most such programs facilitate the sharing of information among participants, augmented by presentations by guest speakers.

2. Opportunities for Involvement Gallagher et al. reported that both mothers and fathers wanted increased paternal involvement. Eighty-three percent of the fathers (N = 152) interviewed by Linder and Chitwood indicated that education was the responsibility of both parents and the school. By actively involving fathers, programs can ... foster attachment. Furthermore, when programs involve fathers and children, mothers have opportunities for respite from childcaring burdens.

3. Support - Programs that provide fathers with opportunities to discuss their concerns, joys, and interests with other men in similar situations can help decrease the sense of isolation, which may in turn have beneficial effects on mothers. Although most existing programs are for fathers of young children with special needs, there is a growing recognition of the need to support fathers of older children as well. As children with disabilities become adults, fathers may be required to support dependent adults financially and emotionally. Parents of older children with mental retardation report feeling less supported and more in need of services than fathers and mothers of young children who are mentally retarded. This is a problem that needs immediate attention by social service agencies.

The failure to recognize that fathers too are emotionally affected by the birth of children with disabilities not only deprives them of potentially helpful counsel and support, but also conveys the implicit message that they do not matter and that they are not expected to behave or feel differently once this crisis has struck their families. This is unfortunate. The failure to acknowledge fathers' concerns may, in turn, have adverse effects on other family members. Wives of men who were involved in special programs for fathers reported fewer feelings of failure, less stress resulting from their children's handicaps, and more satisfaction with the time they had to themselves than similar women whose husbands were not involved in programs for fathers.

It is difficult to generalize about fathers whose child has special needs because many factors affect their experiences ... In many ways, fathers of children who have handicaps behave like fathers of children without handicaps. Indeed, Gallagher et al. cautioned against assuming that fathers whose children have handicaps are under debilitating stress. Some fathers speak of new values and personal growth as a result of successfully adapting to a child's disability: "Before Eric came along I was on what you might call a corporate fast track. That's not so important to me anymore. My family is more important to me now."

Despite the varied responses fathers may have to their children's disabilities, families - both traditional and nontraditional - are likely to be strengthened when fathers are emotionally and concretely involved with their families. The potential benefits of paternal involvement may even be greater when children have disabilities, because family members need increased emotional support, understanding, and practical assistance in these circumstances.
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Title Annotation:excerpts
Author:Seligman, Miltoni
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Words:1105
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