Family is the primary unit in the life of an individual. Parents are the pillars of this unit.
Parents and family need to fulfill certain responsibilities in order to function. A family must generate income, protect and maintain its members and home, nurture and love one another and see to it that children are taught social norms and educated. When a child is handicapped, these responsibilities become more crucial. There is the expense, the time, the energy needed to care for the disabled member and his/her safety. Besides this there is the difficulty of helping the disabled member develop a good self-image and social skills, and the problems of seeing to it that the disabled member receives an appropriate education. Every ordinary task becomes more difficult and more stressful.
The Eugenics Movement (1880-1930) assumed parents to be the underlying source of the child's physical, emotional or intellectual disability. A primary goal of this movement was to remove human flaws by regulating human reproduction. Towards the end of the 19th century, through research it was found that some disabilities/conditions are genetically passed on to the child by the parents. But, predicting before pregnancy whether or not a parent will pass on to the child some genetically linked disability is often difficult, if not impossible.
However, in the vast majority of children with disabilities, no genetic cause can be identified. Yet, blaming the parents when children are born with these conditions seldom leads to productive parent – professional interactions. Some times, tracing the cause of disability to some factor related to the parents may prove helpful towards diagnosis and prevention of similar cases in future.
Parent's reaction to the birth of a child with disabilities varies widely. While somewhat speculative, 3 to 7 emotional stages of parents are usually identified. They are as (a) feelings of shock and disbelief; (b) denial; (c) anger and guilt or depression; and (d) a shift from self-absorption to concentrating on how to deal with the child's needs. Whether all parents experience all these stages is still controversial, as is the exact sequence of stages.
With the above in view parents of the disabled take on multiple roles, which are not separate and distinct from one another, nor do they fall into distinct chronological periods. Rather, they often overlap and share common elements.
A widely held assumption during 1970s was that parents should conscientiously implement decisions made by the professionals. If a child was not making satisfactory progress in the special education program, it was often assumed that the parents were not assuming their responsibility for implementing the program at home. The "myth of professional omnipotence" or the assumption that professionals, by virtue of their specialized training and technical expertise, have the ability to make wise decisions about other people's lives has slowly disintegrated. The recent age therapists and educators have accepted the potential of parents. Parents are now active partners in not only implementing of professional advice but also plan out and carry out the same at home.
Parents' groups serve as a mechanism through which parents give each other mutual support and share information. Parents' initiated and supported efforts often at great personal expense has won the legal right to free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment, better conditions in residential facilities and integrated vocational, residential and recreational services in the community, provisions for better financial security.
As mentioned earlier since 1970s a great emphasis has been placed on the role of parents as teachers and members of the multidisciplinary team. Here parents are provided training to make them more resourceful and for better involvement.
The development of parents' organisations evolved from small, local support groups of parents to national professional organisations. The primary function of many parent organisations has changed from providing direct services to advocating for political, legal, economic and social change.
Professionals are becoming more aware of the necessity to consider the needs and roles played by all members of the family with a child with disabilities. It has been recognized that family has a value in developing and implementing programs for the disabled member. It is also realized that family members have much to offer professionals. They often have unique insights gleaned from their day-to-day experiences living with the member with disability.
Throughout history and across culture the family has been the primary agency for survival. Although the forms of families vary, the tasks are universal. Parents or parent surrogates cross all cultures assured the responsibility for transmitting to their offspring their competencies required by the social, economic and political forces of their society or social group. The family constitutes the parents but also the siblings, grandparents, uncles and aunts and other extended family. Hence, the major responsibilities of families can be listed as follows
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