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Impact of Learning Disabilities On A Child

Impact of learning disabilities on a child’s siblings and their family functioning/relationship

Introduction

Family relationships are at best, challenging and raising children with learning disabilities ends up creating way more stress for families (McConnell, Savage and Breitkreuz, 2014). Concerns about children with learning disabilities have impacts on parent interactions with the disabled child and other children in the family, marital relationships, sibling relationships, and existing relationships among intergenerational family members. Generally, having a disabled child in a family is considered as a major stressor in family life. This is a unique shared experience for families and has been proven to have effects on multiple aspects of family functioning. Roper et al. (2014), argue that on the positive side, living with a disabled child holds the potential of broadening horizons, increasing the awareness amongst the family members of their inner strengths, enhancing existing cohesion within families, encouraging connections to religious institutions. On the negative side, the related financial and time costs and the additional emotional and physical demands and logistical complexities that are associated with raising disabled children often have far-reaching effects. Parish, Rose and Andrews (2010), point out that these effects are often depended on the type of the condition and how severe it is, and the family`s physical and emotional wherewithal and available resources.

For parents, having disabled children often translates to an increase in stress and takes a toll on the parents physical and mental health, makes it increasingly difficult to find childcare that is affordable and appropriate, and has effects on decisions related to work, training, education, possibilities of having other more children, and increased reliance on public support. Vanegas and Abdelrahim (2016), report that having a disabled child is associated with reduced self-esteem, blame and guilt and holds the potential of diverting attention from other aspects of family functioning. There are also enormous out of pocket costs of medical care

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Out of every six people in Europe, one has either a disability or a long-standing health problem with up to seven million people in Britain being disabled. In England, about 14.4% of students have special education needs, of which only 17% were born with their impairments (SCOPE, 2020). There are about 1,130,000 individuals in the UK with a learning disability, out of which, about 193,707 are school going children. The support accorded to people with learning disabilities totaled £5.5 billion. Of the adults with learning disabilities in England, there are only about 6% who are in paid employment.

While there has been extensive research on the effects the disabilities of children have on the functioning of their siblings and families and the relationships they have with them, there has not been as much research on the specific effects of children`s learning disabilities on their parents and children. Learning disabilities are neurological conditions that have effects on the abilities of the brain of sending, receiving and processing information (Fletcher et al. 2018). Children with learning disabilities are often faced with difficulties when it comes to reading, writing, speaking, listening, comprehension of mathematical concepts, and general comprehension. This paper, therefore, specifically focuses on children with learning disabilities. The aim is to develop an understanding of the impacts of learning disabilities on children`s siblings and the relationships and functioning of their families. This study will seek to identify both positive and negative impacts of these relations.

Research questions

How do childrens learning disabilities affect the relationships and functioning of families?

What are the possible ways through which social work can support and improve these family relationships and family functioning?

The research was inspired by personal experiences in my first placement while providing support for a family that had a child with learning disabilities and challenging behavior. During my placement, I was able to observe the different ways through which this affected the child’s siblings and their larger family. The topic of research is relevant to social work practice and research and can possibly help practitioners with putting into consideration the different ways through which to offer increasingly holistic interventions to the children with learning disabilities and also to their family’s needs. The findings of the study will also increase the awareness among social workers of how to improve the wellbeing of the children and families they support. The involvement of social workers in the care for children with learning disabilities revolves around the implementation of special education resources for the children.

Methodology

This chapter explains the adopted research paradigms guiding the formulation of the research question and the overall systematic review approach. Additionally, the used search strategy for purposes of retrieving research studies from different academic databases is presented. The focus of the chapter is on what and how data was extracted and the used techniques for data analysis.

Data collection

To answer the research questions, a systematic review of literature is adopted. In systematic reviews, researchers adopt explicit methods for purposes of performing comprehensive literature searches, critical appraisal of every individually gathered study, and use of appropriate statistical techniques to combine valid and relevant studies (Xiao and Watson, 2019). Systematic review utilize repeatable analytical methods for purposes of collecting secondary data and subsequently analyzing it. Systematic reviews are carried out in several steps. The first step involves the formulation of the research question. That involves the identification of the problem that the researcher intends to address in the review (Fisch and Block, 2018). Research problems should always be structured properly and should never be ambiguous. In addition, the question should not be changed after the commencement of the review and that is because the structuring of the review process and review protocol is based on the question.

The development of the question is followed by the development of the protocol which specifies the methods to be used throughout the review for purposes of minimizing bias (Fisch and Block, 2018). Transparency is key in carrying out proper systematic reviews and therefore, the protocol always has to be stated with clarity. Some of the items that are included in the protocol are the criterion for inclusion and exclusion, search strategy, criteria for selecting studies and the selection process, data extraction process, assessment of the quality of the study, methods of data synthesis and the plan for dissemination of results (Ferreras-Fernandez et al., 2016).

The search is then carried out and researchers are always advised to utilize well-structured search methodologies when doing the search. After the gathering of results and their subsequent de-duplication, the screening process begins and this is followed by assessment of the studies that have been identified for purposes of determining whether they are eligible (Fisch and Block, 2018). A data extraction form is then used after finishing the process of identifying the studies to be included, to extract relevant data from each of the studies that is included. After data extraction, results analysis and synthesis follows (Ferreras-Fernandez et al., 2016). Interpretation of results is the last step of the systematic review process and this is followed by the dissemination of the results.

Research philosophy

Positivism, critical realism, pragmatism and constructivism are the dominant research philosophies commonly adopted in systematic reviews. This research adopts the pragmatism research philosophy, a problem-oriented philosophy that holds the view that the most suitable research methods help with effective answering of research questions. According to this philosophy, there are multiple ways through which the world can be interpreted and how research can be carried out, and no single view point is capable of providing a complete picture as there are always multiple realities in existence (Shusterman, 2016). Positivism and interpretivism are the two extreme mutually exclusive paradigms on the nature and sources of knowledge with the majority of research studies broadly falling within any of these two paradigms (Abu-Alhaija, 2019). It is however, worth noting that seasoned researchers have to go about modifying their philosophical assumptions in addition to embracing new positions. The modified philosophical assumptions are adapted by pragmatic researchers.

For pragmatic researchers, the research philosophy is the most important determinant. Those researchers who adopt pragmatic research philosophies are capable of bringing the interpretivism and positivist philosophies together within the scope of a single research and according to the nature of the research question (Maarouf, 2019). In contrast, to other research philosophies, pragmatism allows researchers to integrate multiple research strategies and approaches in the same study if they so wish. Additionally, those studies that adopt the pragmatic philosophy can also integrate multiple research methods, including qualitative, quantitative and action research methods. Such integration makes it possible to develop a deeper understanding of the problem being studied (Lohse, 2017). Through this, an even deeper understanding of the research question is enabled making it possible to develop increasingly balanced conclusions on the existing opportunities and challenges around the problem being researched. Without a doubt, pragmatism is problem oriented and views the best research methods as those that make it possible to answer questions in the most effective ways.

Search strategy

In this section, there are four components of the search strategy that are highlighted; inclusion/exclusion criteria, the selection of used search terms, the selection of accessed sources and the methods utilized for purposes of tracking the search.

Selection of used terms

Munn et al. (2018), posit that the keen selection of search terms goes a long way in optimizing the retrieval of journal articles from different online databases. A macros program that can possibly be integrated with Microsoft Word for automatic generation of search strategies will be used for the selection. The program came in handy in translating search strategies across the different databases from which the studies are obtained from. These include, EMBASE, Medline Ovid, Cochrane, Google Scholar, PubMed, and CINAHL. It is worth noting that the initial development of the search strategy that was not reliant on the program was based on Embase.com as the primary database. To develop the search terms for EMBASE, the Emtree feature in EMBASE was used for purposes of generating synonyms for the different used search terms. The used initial search terms were “learning disability,” “siblings,” “special education needs,” “functioning,” and “family relationships.” Generally, for retrieval of the journal articles, one search engine, Google Scholar, and five databases, including EMBASE, CINAHL, PubMed, Cochrane and Medline Ovid. In addition, the bibliographies of the relevant journal articles were scrutinized to for identification of additional sources that could not possibly be retrieved from the databases.

The search on these different databases was facilitated by the use of the different keywords, which were combined using the Boolean operators, AND, NOT and OR. Boolean operators are rather simple words that are utilized as conjunctions for purposes of either combining or excluding keywords in a search and they result in increasingly focused and productive results. Through the elimination of unnecessary and inappropriate hits that have to be scanned before they are discarded, time and effort are effectively saved.

Inclusion/exclusion criteria

The PRISMA methodology was used as the basis for the formulation of the inclusion criteria and this ensured that the current systematic review was reported in a transparent manner.

Inclusion criteria

Studies that only dwell on children with learning disabilities

Studies with only children as participants

Exclusion criteria

Studies with adult participants

Studies dwelling on other different forms of disabilities other than learning disabilities.

Study selection

A total of 250 studies were initially identified from the different databases and also from google scholar. From these 250 originally identified studies, the duplicates totaled 47 and after their identification, they were subsequently excluded. Through the removal of duplicates that are identified from searching different databases, it becomes easier to complete the other study selection steps, like screening and additionally checking the extent of aptness of the studies that remain. In addition, by removing duplicates, the multiple inconveniences that come about as a result of inconsequential, redundant, and repetitive materials are done away with. 203 studies remained after the duplicates were removed, and these were subjected to screening to facilitate determining the extent of their potential to answer the research questions that had been set, in addition to determine their extent of relevancy. Based on these different studies titles, tables of contents, and abstracts, 174 studies were excluded as they were found not to be too relevant. Assessment was then done on the full texts of the 29 studies that remained for purposes of determining how eligible they were, subsequently leading to the further exclusion of another 21 studies, and finally, only 9 studies were found to be suited and were included in the review finally. The PRISMA diagram below illustrates the process that was followed in the selection of the studies finally included in the review.

Data extraction and analysis

For purposes of obtaining information from the 9 studies that had been identified, data extraction forms were utilized. The extraction of data was done for purposes of identifying crucial details with the potential of being instrumental in assessing the quality of the evidence and additionally providing answers for the research questions. Multiple data sets were extracted and these included, details of the references, the research focus, and the research settings. The obtained data on the methodological aspects of the included studies included a focus on the population, intervention, size of sample, outcomes measured and results.

The researcher carried out qualitative data analysis. Through the qualitative data analysis approach, researchers go about collecting non-numerical data in the form of texts and this is subsequently analyzed, facilitating the development of an enhanced understanding of the experiences, concepts and opinions in the texts (Jackson and Bazeley, 2019). This made the gathering of increasingly deep insights possible on impacts of learning disabilities on a child’s siblings, and their family functioning and relationships. Thematic analysis was utilized for analyzing the collected data. Thematic analysis is a method of data analysis that is characterized by searching through data sets to identify, analyze and further report repeated patterns (Braun and Clarke, 2019). The method is commonly used for purposes of describing data, and it is worth noting that it also involves interpretation when codes are being selected and themes are being constructed (Maguire and Delahunt, 2017). The flexibility of thematic analysis method of data analysis to be used across a wide range of epistemological and theoretical frameworks is one it’s distinguishing features, in addition to its applicability to a range of frameworks, both epistemological and theoretical, and additionally being applied to multiple study questions, designs and sample sizes (Braun and Clarke, 2006). According to some scholars, thematic analysis falls within the ethnography realm, that is, it is because of its particular suitability to phenomenology. This is because the method of data analysis is capable of standing by itself as an analysis method and has additionally been found as a foundation for other qualitative research methods (Nowell et al., 2017).

It is worth noting that there is no particular paradigmatic orientation that binds thematic analysis, and it is instead possible to use it within other research approaches, including the post-positivist, constructivist and realist approaches.

The first step in thematic data analysis is getting familiar with the data, and this is achieved through repeatedly and actively reading through data. After getting familiar with the data, researchers then go about generating the initial codes. Coding facilitates the organization of data into a granular and specific level (Braun and Clarke, 2006). It is necessary to differentiate coding and the identification of themes, on one hand, coding involves note taking on data items of interest, connections and questions between different data sets. For any data element, codes are the most basic segments that can possibly be assed in ways that are meaningful and in relation to the research topic. According to Terry et al. (2017), it is important that at all times, codes are defined sufficiently and their demarcation should be in such a way that they in no way overlap with other codes and they should be made to fit logically within larger frameworks of coding and coding templates. In the third step of thematic analysis, the extracted codes are examined to enable the identification of potential themes. The process of identification of themes is recognized by Braun and Clarke (2006), as a fundamentally active and interpretative process. Researchers have to actively construct themes as they do not just emerge from anywhere, and the construction of themes becomes possible through analyzing, combining, comparing and even graphically mapping the different ways through which codes are related to one another. According to Tennekes (2018), thematic maps come in handy when themes are being created and organized as they visually demonstrate the different existing cross-sections that exist between themes and sub-themes.

In the fourth step, the themes that have been identified are reviewed. The coded data is closely examined to ensure it fits appropriately within the different themes. The different relevant codes under the different themes are reviewed for purposes of ascertaining whether the different themes have adequate supporting data. Braun and Clarke (2019) suggest that the data within the different themes has to be adequately coherent and should also have commonality. There is also need for the data within the themes to be adequately distinct to an extent that it merits separation. After this has been completed, sorting of the data extracts is done again and themes subsequently modified for purposes of ensuring that they reflect and capture the coded data in a better way (Kiger and Varpio, 2020). Adding, combining, dividing, and even discarding the themes are all possibilities. The researcher then decides on whether there is a meaningful fit between the individual themes and the data sets. To achieve this, the researcher re-reads the entire data sets for purposes of re-examining codes and additionally re-coding for any more data falling under the themes that have been newly created or modified. Thematic analysis, is without a doubt, a quite powerful method for qualitative research.

Learning disabilities

There exists confusion on the disorders that qualify as learning disabilities and there are different conditions which are often mistaken as learning disabilities but are not. These include attention deficit disorder, autism spectrum disorder, blindness and deafness. There are five disabilities which qualify as learning disabilities and these are dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, and a non-verbal learning disability with similarities to Asperger’s syndrome characterized by poor social and motor coordination skills (Beckmann and Minnaert, 2018). Dyslexia is a reading disability, dyspraxia is a disability that leads to the mixing up of words and sentences as they speak, dyscalculia is a math disability, and dysgraphia is a learning disability. Dyslexia is the most common of these five (Grigorenko et al. 2020).

The Equality Act 2010 recognizes a person as being disabled if they have a long-standing illness condition or impairment that brings about difficulties for them as they go about their daily activities. The children with learning disabilities are recognized as having special education needs if they have learning problems or disabilities that make learning for them to be more difficult in comparison to other children who are the same age as them. They could be having problems with their school work, communicating, and behavior.

Pressure on parents

Multiple studies have reported on the associations between stress and bringing up children with learning disabilities. In a study by, Ziapour and Khosravi (2021), mothers of boys with learning disabilities were found to be more anxious as compared to the mothers of boys who did not have learning disabilities. These findings were similar to those of a different study by You, Lee and Kwon (2019), which reported that more stress was experienced by mothers of children with learning disabilities who were in general education classes. Another study by Hsiao (2018), on family functioning, parental stress in parents of children with learning disabilities when they were compared to other parents whose children did not have learning disabilities.

Antshel and Joseph (2006) did a study and established that there were higher stress levels reported by mothers of children with learning disabilities as compared to the stress levels among mothers of children without learning disability. Greater levels of general stress were recorded by women whose children had reading disorders, while women whose children had nonverbal learning disorders reported poorer interactions with their children. The study by Antshel and Joseph (2006), further dug deeper into the specific characteristics of parents and children that were associated with maternal stress and they discovered that the severity of learning disabilities had associations with increased maternal stress among mothers whose children had learning disabilities, but not among mothers whose children had reading disabilities. In the children who had reading disorders, maternal stress had relations with the age of the mother (younger age-more stress), presence of social support and psychological difficulties. There are other researchers who have shown the relationship between parental stress and specific child characteristics. For instance, increased stress levels were associated with

Sibling relationship

Literature commonly conceptualizes sibling relationships along four dimensions, and these include; relative status/power, rivalry, conflict and warmth. Research by Roper et al. (2014), has established that children with disabilities influence the endorsement of these factors. In relation to warmth, Zaidman et al. (2020), argue that children with disabilities generally enjoy positive relationships with their siblings, as compared to the relationships between typically developing siblings. However, the generalizations drawn regarding warmth, cannot also be drawn about the level and intensity of conflicts experienced by siblings. Research reports on increased conflicts in sibling relationships when either of the children is disabled. Concerning rivalry, the typically developing children, commonly perceive their mothers as being increasingly partial to those children who have disabilities. Additionally, when there is a child who is disabled, parents often perceive greater power/status differential in the relationship among the siblings.

Braconnier et al. (2018), posit that the adjustment of typical developing children determines has a relationship with the quality of sibling relationships. Negative sibling impacts are reported in some studies. For instance, siblings of disabled children are reported to possess higher externalizing behavior problems, internalizing behavior problems, and problems with education, as compared to siblings of children who do not have any disabilities (Shivers and McGregor, 2019). There are however some studies that do not report negative sibling impact, reporting siblings of children with disabilities to be indistinguishable from their peers. In a study by Avieli, Band-Winterstein and Araten Bergman (2019), it was found that there were only minor differences between the siblings of children with intellectual disabilities and the siblings of typically developing children in terms of psychological adjustment. Positive impacts of growing with disabled brothers or sisters have also been reported. To be specific, the siblings of disabled children show higher tolerance for differences, increased levels of empathy, higher maturity, increased self-confidence and more appreciation of personal intelligence and health, as compared to siblings of children who are not disabled. A general observation of the studies exploring the impacts of children’s disabilities on siblings is that constellation variables are often not accounted for during the examination of the existing differences between sibling relationships among children with or without intellectual disabilities (Stein et al., 2020). Constellation variables include birth order, gender, age spacing and age. These are factors with the potential of affecting sibling relationships.

A more recent study by Begum and Mamin (2019), sought to determine the extent to which disability status and constellation variables, moderated the different sibling relationship qualities of conflict, rivalry, warmth, and status/power. The study carried out fixed effects variance analyses to determine how disability status interacted with these constellation variables. The study found no significant relationship between birth order and disability status, and neither was a significant relationship established between disability status and the gender of the siblings. A trend was however, observed between disability status and the gender of siblings.

Psychological impact of having a sibling with Learning Disabilities

Different researchers have researched on the impacts that are associated with growing up with siblings who are disabled and autistic. The negative psychological impacts that have been reported over time provide psychologists with important insight related to the well-being and health of many different individuals (Dyson, 2010). An increasingly comprehensive understanding of family units has been provided and has been quite instrumental in developing programs that are better suited and that are more effective for helping these families.

There are two categories of the negative psychological impacts that come about from having a disabled sibling as indicated by literature and these are; internalized emotions and externalized behaviors (Davys, Mitchell and Haigh, 2011). According to Long et al. (2018), anger, neglect, embarrassment, stress, hostility, guilt, negative self-image, resentment, jealousy, and worry are some of the emotional difficulties commonly associated with growing up with disabled siblings. Evidence from qualitative data demonstrates that having a disabled sibling brings about a huge psychological impact. Fletcher and Grigorenko (2017), in their study of the neuropsychology of learning, report that there are no adjustment problems reported by children who grow up with disabled siblings, claiming that among such individuals, there are still elevations of external problems. In comparison to external problems, the prevalence of internalized emotional problems is relatively lower. There exists a rather extensive list of the behavioral difficulties that children with disabled siblings face which have been developed from the topics body of literature, and these include academic difficulties, conflict with other siblings and parents, aggressiveness, and general poor wellbeing and psychological functioning (Russo et al., 2017). It is worth noting that there are negative psychosocial outcomes that are a result of affected peer relationships. Gan et al. (2017) argue that those children whose siblings have disabilities are teased from time to time by others and even bullied as a consequence. Regardless of whether they are actually bullied or not, these children have to deal with negative peer reactions. Often, typical peer relations are further inhibited because of the possibility of having a sibling with a disability resulting in disruptions during the course of social activities (Knecht, Hellmers and Metzing, 2015). Healthy development is facilitated by these peer relationships and therefore, deficiencies in crucial experiences provides perfect explanation for the different observed difficulties. Woodgate et al. (2016) report that children whose siblings have disabilities are observed to perceive reduced social acceptance, while a different study by Vermaes, van Susante and Van Bakel (2012) reports that the healthy siblings of disabled children commonly hold the belief that they have more problems and difficulties in compared to those experienced by their peers who do not have siblings with disabilities.

These negative outcomes come from different unique aspects of the family dynamic. For example, confusion in relation to roles has the potential of contributing to these outcomes. Additionally, Hu et al. (2017) found that those children whose siblings have some form of impairment, report extended periods of isolation and have a higher probability of having just limited access to information regarding the disabilities of their siblings.

Across literature, there is a common concern on the degree to which siblings who are healthy are required to make personal sacrifices favoring their disabled siblings. The majority of individuals whose siblings are disabled take on a higher number of caregiving responsibilities and a requirement is naturally placed on them to devote more of their time and attention to the disabled child (Rossiter and Sharpe, 2001). At times, preferential treatment is accorded to the disabled child by parents. Individuals whose siblings have disabilities have the potential of resenting their disabled siblings, and the jealous and anger they harbor is often expressed through direct aggression. It is however, worth noting that there are common struggles with guilt in reaction to their own anger, dissatisfaction and guilt, and that is especially in those scenarios where there are feelings that they should be actively involved in the protection and caring of their siblings, and they could even struggle with survivors guilt (Dew, Balandin and Llewellyn, 2008). They could make attempts to be model children for purposes of mollifying their guilt feelings, which is attempted at relieving the burden placed on the family due to the deficits of their siblings, and additionally get more attention. A compulsion to achieve could come about from this internal pressure.

There are disabilities that have the potential of causing the development of increasingly cause specific dynamics. For example, a study by Del’Homme et al. (2007) established that the characteristic of adolescence of losing patience with the disruptive and unpredictable behaviors of their ADHD siblings, increasingly strained family relations. There were reports from these adolescents of resentment towards their siblings as there were expectations placed on them to assume greater burden of work, in comparison to what was expected of their siblings (Del’Homme et al., 2007). Another study by Meadan, Stoner and Angell (2010) found that those with ADHD had a higher likelihood of being aggressive in the event their siblings turned aggressive, and retaliatory aggression was quite common in their siblings who did not have ADHD, and often, this built a tense and distressing environment. A conclusion is reached that these factors make a contribution towards the higher-than-average trait anger that is measured among those siblings who have ADHD.

Saxena and Adamsons (2013) identify five characteristics that are common in individuals whose siblings have disabilities. The first is that the typically-developing siblings make attempts at dissociating themselves from their disabled siblings. They often make claims that they are only children and avoid their disabled brothers and sisters. The second, is that the typically-developing siblings are required to become increasingly responsible caretakers of their disabled siblings. From this overactive responsibilities, the sacrifice of the anxieties and personal feelings of the individual comes about. The third is the possibility of the typically-developing siblings sacrificing their personal needs out of obligation, in a phenomenon commonly known as premature independence (Saxena and Adamsons, 2013). This is the tendency of growing up too fast. Adolescents end up becoming increasingly responsible for themselves, their parents and even their siblings. Pervasive guilt is the fourth characteristic common among typically-developing siblings. While the typically-developing individuals have love for their siblings who have disabilities, the majority of them show resentment to the special treatment and attention accorded to their siblings. Even with this, the typically-developing siblings often know that they are fortunate as compared to their siblings and there is need for anger, ending up repressing their negative emotions as internalized guilt (Taylor and Hodapp, 2012). The fifth characteristic among typically-developing siblings is feeling neglected by parents. The typically developing siblings could develop symptoms for purposes of getting increased attention from their families (Lee and Burke, 2018). The study makes a suggestion that according the typically-developing siblings proper attention and the opportunities of communicating openly, they become better placed to develop positive relationships with their parents and siblings, effectively mollifying the negative effects of having disabled siblings.

Psychological benefits of having a disabled sibling

There are several studies that point out that the elevated internalization of behavioral problems and symptoms that are experienced by those whose siblings have disabilities are within a normal range. There are even studies that report that the siblings of disabled individuals could benefit from growing up with their disabled siblings. Some of the positive psychological and emotional qualities that have been identified by researchers are affection, empathy, optimistic self-esteem, resilience, compassion, assertiveness, and the desires of protecting. Hayden et al. (2019) made a conclusion that having a disabled sibling effectively fostered a sense of responsibility and maturity, in addition to self-esteem and competency. Hayden et al. (2019), reporting on the findings of a qualitative analysis, revealed that there were common tendencies among those who had disabled siblings towards affection and protection.

Mothers whose children who had a disabled sibling were reported to consistently rate their children who did not have any disabilities as increasingly compassionate and warm as compared to the rating by mothers who did not have a with a disability on their children (Lee and Burke, 2018). The majority of students in college who grew up with siblings with disabilities report feeling their lives as having been enriched by their experiences of growing up with disabled siblings and ended up being increasingly empathetic as a result.

Self-concept was reported to be affected by family satisfaction, attitudes towards disorders, warmth from siblings, and per support. These favorable relationships had a higher likelihood in the event families were able to respond to personal growth and additionally encourage open communication and communal making of decisions.

There are also studies that have been carried out to investigate the beneficial psychosocial benefits that come about from having siblings with different types of disabilities. Nuttall, Coberly and Diesel (2018) make an argument that increased independence, enhanced cooperation, and higher levels of empathy come about from having siblings with hearing disabilities. Alternatively, some of the positive attributes that are associated with having siblings with cancer include, affective expression, cohesion, and shared problem-solving and decision making (Jones et al., 2019). The desire to do well is a rather interesting effect of having a disabled citizen. Most probably, this desire has different causes. There are common feelings among siblings that they are required to be near-perfect children so that they can relieve the burdens on their families and additionally compensate for their siblings who are less able. Often, those individuals whose siblings were disabled end up excelling in an effort to differentiate themselves, to get more attention from their parents, to relieve the burden on their families, and to additionally compensate for the deficiencies of their siblings.

Family functioning

There is conflicting research on the effects of how children`s learning disabilities affect family functioning. A study by Pisula and Porebowicz-Dorsmann (2017) found that those families whose children have learning disabilities have tendencies of emphasizing on increased control, orderliness and personal achievement, as compared to families of children who do not have learning disabilities. Also, families with children with learning disabilities could provide way less opportunities for intellectual and recreational activities and minimal encouragement of personal growth and emotional expression (Van Schoors et al., 2017). Miranda et al. (2019) found families of adolescents who have learning disabilities to experience reduced family cohesiveness and reduced communication on problems that afflict them as a family, as compared to families that do not have adolescents with learning disabilities. Other studies report that family patterns of children with learning disabilities fall within normal limits.

From these different studies analyzed in this literature review, it is evident that the impacts children`s learning disabilities have on families are dependent on different factors and these include the specific characteristics of the disabled child, the siblings, the parents and the whole family. Contextual conditions, including community resources, school relations, availability of counselling services and remedial help, play an instrumental role in the mediation of stress within families.

The social work impact/response with children with learning disabilities

There are different philosophical frameworks that underpin providing services and support to individuals who have learning disabilities. Adopting the normalization principles has been a key influence on the lives of individuals with learning disabilities over the years (Sims, 2011). Nirje and Wolfernsberger were the key proponents of the normalization principle and they argued for the implementation of an approach that would effectively challenge the institutionalization practice and additionally offer support to people such that they would be able to live culturally valued lives within their communities (Sunker, 2019). It is worth noting that even to date, while normalization has remained as the predominant perspective that informs the provision of services to individuals with learning disabilities, there are also philosophical and theoretical frameworks, including the social model of disability that have played a key role in the definition of the disability experience (Dear, 2018). Central to these ideas is the understanding that disability is an experience and not a pathological condition that requires medical intervention. Being impaired is considered as a natural part of the diversity constituting the human condition.

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Bigby (2009), points out that social workers are in a unique position to offer people with learning disabilities with support, such that they are able to fully get involved in community life. Social workers, working across systems and also at the individual, policy and community levels are well suited to build a deep understanding of the issues that confront people with learning disabilities, in their day to day lives. In addition, social workers are also well placed to resist those roles that require them to take up the roles of service and resource gatekeepers, instead positioning them as change agents in the interests of the people with disabilities (Moreno and Morales, 2019). It is worth noting that analyzing the different ways through which services function, and whether they have the capabilities of promoting meaningful possibilities and opportunities is central to this role. Burghardt et al. (2021), argue that through critical analysis, social workers are better placed to work on the cutting-edge and additionally challenge service practices that are restrictive, for instance, putting the spotlight on residential services that are community based and that have become entrenched in models that are restrictive of choices and that isolate people who have learning disabilities in the enclaves of communities. Morrison, Bickerstaff and Taylor (2010), argue that it is necessary to challenge those policies that lead to the isolation of work and day activities within segregated environments, including sheltered workshops. In such scenarios, there is minimal connection between services and the communities where they are located, and due to this, people’s homes end up being isolated, compartmentalized and bureaucratized. In practices that are restrictive like these, the living experiences of individuals who have learning disabilities get constructed in terms of service systems and not experience. This brings to the fore, the importance of advocacy to deal with these aforementioned challenges.

Advocacy is one of the key tasks that social workers play. Individuals who are members of teams of social workers constantly work hand in hand with those who have learning disabilities, for purposes of supporting them such that they are able to gain access to community services and further be supported in mainstream environments, including work places and schools. (To be continued…)

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