Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Health Sciences


Rehabilitation Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Susan Effgen

Second Advisor

Dr. Margaret Wittman


Introduction: For children born with physical disabilities, the perspectives and actions of their parents prove significant to their childhood developmental outcomes clinically, educationally, socially, and with regard to community participation. The lived world and perceptions of parents who have children with disabilities however is not well investigated. This study sought to understand parents’ framing of theirs and their children’s disability experiences. Family systems together with family systems intervention models, and disability theory were used to provide structure to interview instrumentation and subsequent analysis. Child-centered and ecologic influences were also used to track the transformative processes over time that infuses parental themes.

Methods: Methods for this study followed traditions of heuristic phenomenology. Open-ended parental interviews, written and spoken, together with field notes were used to explore the meanings given to disability. Analysis focused on collective descriptions and critical themes.

Results: The nine parents in this study revealed four dominant themes around which their children’s lived lives were both understood and framed. Navigating normal for us; Our pride and joy; Anything but disability; Lived lives, looking back. Each is expressed in the words of parents who reared a child with disabilities into adulthood.

Discussion and Recommendations: Parental disability frameworks differ from medical model frameworks and those of disability studies but share similarities with each. The parent themes provided holistic views of what these families have lived and learned. Their perspectives provide potentially vital markers and points of inquiry for interventionists and team members who work with children and families. Themes may also offer categorical means to explore well-being and child outcomes. Additionally, the themes were transformative and empowering for parents, both in the discussion of individual matters and in their narratives. All participants iterated that they welcomed having their voices invited and heard.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)