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Research Trends: Learning Disabilities and the Family

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By Marshall Raskind, Ph.D. , Malka Margalit, Ph.D.

Family Functioning

Research on the effects of a child with LD on how the family functions is somewhat conflicting. Studies have indicated that families with children who have LD tend to emphasize more control, orderliness and personal achievement than families of children without LD but they also experience more family conflict. At the same time, families who have children with LD may provide fewer opportunities for intellectual and recreational activities as well as less encouragement of free emotional expression and personal growth (Margalit & Almougy, 1991; Margalit & Heiman, 1986a, 1986b).

Another study found families of adolescents with LD experience less family cohesiveness and less communication about family problems than families without LD adolescents. However, this same study also reported no differences in family functioning or adjustment (Morrison & Zetlin, 1992). Still other research has reported that family patterns of children with LD fall within "normal limits" (Parker, Hill & Goodnow, 1989). It should also be stressed that some studies have found that despite the difficulties experienced by families of children with LD, there are also positive effects on the family including enhanced "family strength" and personal values (Waggoner & Wilgosh, 1990).

Putting It in Perspective

It's important to emphasize that the impact of LD on the family depends upon multiple factors including the specific characteristics of the child with LD, the parents, the siblings and the family as a whole. It should also be stressed that contextual conditions such as relations with schools and community resources, including the availability of remedial help and counseling, may serve to mediate stress in the family (Shiota, 2006). With this in mind, it's important to understand that the studies reviewed in this article may not necessarily be relevant to, or representative of, your family or families you know who have children with LD. However, this review of research provides insights into the impact of LD on the family and contributes to an understanding that may enhance family interactions and the well-being of individual family members.

There is also one last research finding that I would like to share from my own study of LD across the lifespan (Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins, & Herman, 1999). My colleagues and I found that despite the struggles that may be faced by families of children with LD, adults with LD show great appreciation towards their families for the support and sacrifices made along the way to help ensure that that they would lead successful, satisfying and personally fulfilled lives. That is something family members should keep in mind as they confront the potential challenges of a child with LD.

Marshall H. Raskind, Ph.D., is a learning disability researcher. He is a frequent presenter at international LD conferences and is the author of numerous professional publications on learning disabilities. He is well-known for his research on assistive technology and longitudinal studies tracing LD across the life span.

Malka Margalit, Ph.D., is professor at the School of Education, Tel-Aviv University, the Vice president for international development, in IARLD, and an internationally recognized expert on loneliness and empowerment of families and children with learning disabilities. She serves on the editorial boards of several journals, among them Journal of Learning Disabilities and Exceptional Children.

Comments from readers

"will all due respect to research I am tired of seeing only results that reflect the impact on the mother, I am a single father who had a learning disabilty as child and I have son with an LD and it has a tremendous effect on any parent not just mothers,and because of my expericences I am much better prepared to help my son "
"Did this article appear in any journal. I would like to know how to cite it."