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Effects of Intellectual Disabilities on Mental Health of Parents and Their Children

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Family
Wordcount: 2231 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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 While researching articles relating to the effect’s disabilities had on mental health, it became apparent that the effects were alarmingly prominent and all too common, specifically in individuals with intellectual disabilities and those caring for them. This is fascinating because it introduces the question of how to help individuals deal with these effects and improve their daily lives and mindset. The objective of this paper is to demonstrate the effects intellectual disabilities have on the mental health of not only those living with them, but their caretakers as well to raise awareness of the pressures that come with these disabilities. 

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 To reach this goal, the paper is divided into four main sections. The first section is a debriefing on intellectual disabilities and caretaker responsibilities to help the reader understand why this issue is important. The second section contains historical context regarding the current aide available to those living with intellectual disabilities and their caretakers. The third section contains discussions of findings on mental health issues and risks that those with intellectual disabilities are more prone to, including those who care for them, and suggests methods that may ease these effects. Subheadings are used to discuss these methods which include group therapy, medication, independent living, and addressing barriers to independency. The fourth section contains a conclusion of the main points of the paper and a response to objections.


Intellectual disabilities are defined as significant impairments in intellectual ability accompanied by deficits in skills necessary for independent daily functioning. About one to three percent of Americans have an intellectual disability. Examples of common intellectual disabilities include Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Autism, and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

The effects of these abilities range from mild to moderate and impact each person in different ways. The degree of to which the effects are present depend on the age of onset.


Currently there are many forms of aide for those living with intellectual disabilities or those caring for someone who is including, Medicaid, who covers an estimated 14.2 million a year,  Supplemental Security Income (SSI), who aides those with qualifying conditions with expenses and even job support, Social Security, Medicare, which provides similar aide as Medicaid, and civil rights presented in the  Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These programs are what allows those with intellectual disabilities and their families to have access to vital things such as healthcare and job placement. The ADA states the civil rights of those with intellectual disabilities and guarantees and protects them under law.

Mental issues are defined as severe disturbances in behavior, mood, thought processes and/or interpersonal relationships. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the DSM provides an outline of the different disorders and their characteristics. The DSM also includes the symptoms included with each disorder that are necessary to diagnose a person

. In persons with intellectual disabilities, coping skills are very limited. This makes sense as those with intellectual disabilities do not handle change well and often to stick to a routine.  This lack of accepting change can lead to difficulty socializing and lack of social skills. This paired with central nervous system impairment can contribute likelihood of developing mental health problems. Parents of children living with intellectual disabilities are prone to depression and grief, making it important for them to have support systems.


An Uncomplicated Life: A Father’s Memoir of His Exceptional  In his book, Paul Daugherty, a father of a daughter with down syndrome writes on his grief and battle with depression over the thought of his daughter’s future in his memoir, maintains that, ”All the typical hopes a father has for his daughter seemed like they would never be mine. I was in quite a state of shock and was depressed and despondent” (Daugherty 18). This highlights the fact that many parents experience grief and depression when discovering their child has an intellectual disability and often believe that their children’s future will never be “typical” living with an intellectual disability

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 Daugherty writes his memories about his daughter Jillian and her experiences in school and her neighborhood, which at the time seemed like her biggest obstacles. In her adult life he acknowledges the support from his friends and family and how without them, he and Jillian would not be who there are today, stating profoundly that, “In her uncomplicated life, we see the possibility, the hope, and the beauty of our own” (Daugherty 378). This highlights the impact of having a strong support group in the lives of parents with children living with intellectual disabilities and their power to change the perspective and attitudes towards the situation.

One Percent of Us.  Films Media Group and Granada Media’s work “One Percent of Us” tells us a great deal about the lives of those living with intellectual disabilities as well as those who care for them. Can this work be generalized to the impact an intellectual disability has on those living with one?  During an interview with one of the now grown up children Loraine, she expresses her dreams such as, “Moving out and living on my own, or with someone else too”. The interviewer then asks her if that would be hard for her to do, to which she replies, “What? Living with someone? I can’t imagine if it would be difficult. I haven’t done it yet”. This interaction shows that those with intellectual disabilities understand the possibilities of life and set goals for themselves as they get older. Loraine is aware of her limitations and exhibits behavioral issues following the sudden death of her two brothers and father, telling her mother that “you made me handicapped”.  This shows not only the affects that change can have on someone living with an intellectual disability, but that they have the capability to form their own opinions about what they are diagnosed with and, in Loraine’s case, feel anger and contempt towards her mother who she blames. This documentary also explored the hard topics that many don’t want to speak on, including the death of their children. Alison, another child interviewed, explains how she is growing and does not have as much energy. In an interview with her father he bluntly states that, “You want them to go before you do, it’s a sad thing to say but it’s true. They are our family and we don’t want them anywhere else but with us”. This shows the constant worry parents feel about their children’s futures and presents a controversial opinion regarding what happens to their child after parents die.

A Comparison of Coping Strategies Used by Parents of Children with Disabilities and Parents of Children without Disabilities. This study was to determine whether coping strategies differ in parents of children with disabilities and parents of children without disabilities. The study consisted of 112 parents with 52 of and 62 parents of children without disabilities. It was hypothesized that coping strategies would be different between the two parent groups. The data showed that parents of children with disabilities coped dramatically different than parents of children without disabilities. According to the study, “Seeking Social Support was a more commonly used method of coping among parents of children with disabilities, as was Escape Avoidance and Positive Reappraisal” (Paster 1). The popular coping mechanisms include social support, which may include blogs, support groups, and even family supports, escape avoidance, which is maladaptive coping mechanism characterized by the effort to avoid dealing with a stressor and positive reappraisal, which is meaning-based coping that enables individuals to adapt successfully to stressful life event by viewing life events in a more positive life than others. This supports the idea that parents of children living with intellectual disabilities mentally cope differently than parents of children without disabilities.

Mindfulness and Parenting Distress among Parents of Children with Disabilities: A Literature Review. This study researches mental health disorders amongst children and adults with intellectual disabilities and considers the mental health of those with ‘borderline’ intellectual disabilities. In this study, researchers were interested to know if even “mild” cases of intellectual disability were prone to mental health risks as observed in those with the more “severe” cases. According to research, “When compared to typically developing children, children identified at as having intellectual disability or borderline intellectual functioning showed significantly higher rates of possible mental health problems…” (Emerson 8). This research shows not only that there is variance in intellectual disability, but how mental health issues can plague any case and, in this study, even worse for those with an intellectual disability.

Psychosocial and Biological Markers of Daily Lives of Midlife Parents of Children with Disabilities. This study investigated diurnal rhythm of cortisol in parents of children with disabilities. Cortisol is secreted in response to dealing with stress and lowering the levels. According to the study, “parents of children with disabilities had similar patterns of daily time use and similar likelihood of positive daily events as the comparison group, but they had elevated levels of stress, negative affect, and physical symptoms, all reported daily”. (Seltzer 3). This shows that parents of children with disabilities differed biologically than parents who did not have children with intellectual disabilities and exhibited higher levels of cortisol in their bodies, indicating higher stress in their lives. Imbalances of cortisol can, in extreme cases, lead to death. The study also found that the days when parents spent all day with their children contained the highest levels of cortisol. This shows the stress and impact of raising any child, let alone one who lives with an intellectual disability.


Living with an intellectual disability, as well as raising a child with an intellectual disability, causes the subject to become more prone to developing mental health issues. Those living with intellectual disabilities often develop behavioral issues and can experience grief regarding their limitations and how they affect their dreams and plans for their lives, looking for outlets of blame. Parents of children living with intellectual disabilities biologically are different from parents of children without them, exhibiting higher levels of stress and higher levels of cortisol, which can, in extreme cases, lead to sudden death. They also use different methods of coping and tend to often avoid their issues or look at every event more positively than someone without a child living with an intellectual disability. Much of the depression and grief commonly exhibited by parents of children living with intellectual disabilities comes from the distress and anxiety over their futures and life without them, a seemingly common worry amongst their children as well. 

Works Cited

  • Daugherty, Paul. An Uncomplicated Life: A Father’s Memoir of His Exceptional Daughter. William Morrow, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2015.
  • Films Media Group, and Granada Media (Film). “One Percent of Us.” Action Record – One Percent of Us, Films on Demand, 7 July 2016, taftcollege.on.worldcat.org/oclc/962803581.
  • Paster, Angela, et al. “A Comparison of Coping Strategies Used by Parents of Children with Disabilities and Parents of Children without Disabilities.” Academic OneFile, Dec. 2009, dx.doi.org.ezproxy.taftcollege.edu/10.1016/j.ridd.2009.05.010.
  • Rayan, Ahmad, and Muayyad Ahmad. “Mindfulness and Parenting Distress among Parents of Children with Disabilities: A Literature Review.” Academic OneFile, Apr. 2018, dx.doi.org.ezproxy.taftcollege.edu/10.1111/ppc.12217.
  • Seltzer, Marsha, et al. “Psychosocial and Biological Markers of Daily Lives of Midlife Parents of Children with Disabilities.” Academic OneFile, Mar. 2009, go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.taftcollege.edu/ps/aboutJournal.do?contentModuleId=AONE&resultClickType=AboutThisPublication&actionString=DO_DISPLAY_ABOUT_PAGE&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&docId=GALE%7C2394&userGroupName=taftcoll_main&inPS=true&rcDocId=GALE%7CA197417844&prodId=AONE&pubDate=120090301.


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