Project Parenting~

Studying Family Adjustment to Children With Developmental Disabilities


For more information, write to:
Project Parenting
Department of Psychology, GH24
18952 E. Fisher Road
St. Mary's College of Maryland
St. Mary's City, MD 20686-3001
Or visit The ARC for more information regarding children with developmental disabilities.

LaraineLaraine Masters Glidden, Project Director

What is the history and purpose of the project?

Project Parenting was initially federally funded in 1987 at St. Mary's College of Maryland.  For 25 years, we have been studying stress and coping in families rearing children with, or at risk for, developmental disabilities. Until our work, much of the research studying families rearing children with disabilities had focused on pathology and maladjustment. However, many families with children with disabilities show excellent adjustment. Recognizing that some families can and do adjust very well to rearing a child with a disability, Project Parenting is attempting to identify characteristics of these families that contribute to good adjustment.

We are studying these characteristics by comparing families who have adopted a child with a disability to families who have had a child with a disability born to them. One of the most obvious differences between the two kinds of families is the conscious choice by the adoptive families to rear a child with special needs. Some of the other factors being studied include demographic characteristics such as marital status and family income, level of functioning of the child, prior experience with people with disabilities, and parental personality, coping styles, and religious beliefs. By identifying factors that might contribute to adjustment to rearing a child with disabilities, professionals can gain knowledge as to what types of interventions might work to help families having difficulties adjusting to their child with special needs. This knowledge can be useful to adoptive families both in pre- and post-adoption services and to birth families during and after diagnosis as well as later in the lifespan.

Who are the families?

Project Parenting consists of 249 families, 123 adoptive and 126 birth. All families who participated in the study are rearing at least one child with, or at risk for, a developmental disability. Children ranged in age from 8 months to 13 years at the time of first interview. Fifty-five percent of the children are male and 45 percent are female. Eighty-one percent of the parents in these families are married couples. Fifty-nine percent describe themselves as Protestant, 31 percent describe themselves as Roman Catholic, and the remaining 10 percent describe themselves as either having no religious affiliation or as "other." Eighty-three percent of the parents who participated are of Anglo-European origin, 14 percent are African American, and the remaining 3 percent are Hispanic or Asian. The average number of years of education at initial interview was 14.1 for fathers and 13.6 for mothers. Participating families had a median annual income of $40,000 in 1990, with a range from $3,530 to $615,000, and have an average of 3.1 children in the family.

What are we doing currently?

We have continued to stay in contact with many of these families for more than 20 years.  Now most of the children are adults, 26 years old on average.  We are very interested in how families adapt to the transition to adulthood as schooling is completed and the adult sons and daughters begin to establish different residences and work routines.  We are finding that most mothers and fathers  report high levels of well-being and effective coping strategies.  They are adapting successfully to this new life stage, as they have adjusted to the challenges of earlier ones.

How will the research benefit families and professionals working with families?

Our purpose is to explore the positive adjustments that families can and do make. Adoptive families are mostly highly satisfied with their decision to adopt a special-needs child, and birth families realize that their child with a disability has made many contributions to the family. We believe that these findings, which we are publishing and presenting at conferences, are important for both families and professionals to know and understand. Professionals are better able to provide appropriate services to families when they have a balanced view of the challenges and the rewards that families experience.

If you are interested in more detailed information about our work, you can write to us or call us. Also, the following publications in professional journals are available:

Flaherty, E. M. & Glidden, L. M. (2000). Positive adjustment in parents rearing children with developmental disabilities. Early Education & Development, 11(4), 407-422.

Glidden, L. M. (2000). Adopting children with developmental disabilities: A long-term perspective. Family Relations, 49, 397-405.

Lazarus, C., Evans, J. N., Glidden, L. M., & Flaherty, E. M. (2002). Transracial adoption of children with developmental disabilities: A focus on parental and family adjustment. Adoption Quarterly, 6, 7-24.

Glidden, L. M. & Schoolcraft, S. A. (2003). Depression: Its trajectory and correlates in mothers rearing children with Intellectual disability." Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 47, 250-263.

Glidden, L.M. (2005, June). Families who adopt children with developmental disabilities. National Council on Family Relations Report, 50(2), F13-14.

Glidden, L. M. & Jobe, B.M. (2006). The longitudinal course of depression in adoptive and birth mothers of children with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 3, 139-142.

Glidden, L. M. & Billings, F.J., Jobe, B.M. (2006). Personality, coping style, and well-being of parents rearing children with developmental disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 50, 949-962.

Glidden, L. M. & Jobe, B.M. (2007).Measuring parental daily rewards and worries in the transition to adulthood. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 112, 275-288.

Jobe, B.M. & Glidden, L.M. (2008).  Predicting maternal rewards and worries for the transition to adulthood of children with developmental disabilities.  Journal on Developmental Disabilities, 14, 69-80.

Corrice, A.M. & Glidden, L.M. (2009).  The Down syndrome advantage:  Fact or fiction?.  American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 114, 254-268.

Glidden, L.M., & Jobe, B.M.* (2009). By choice or by chance: Longitudinal perspectives on resilience and vulnerability in adoptive and birth parents of children with developmental disabilities. In L.M. Glidden & M. M. Seltzer (Eds.). International review of research in mental retardation, Families, Vol. 37, (pp. 61-93).  San Diego, CA:  Academic Press/Elsevier.

Glidden, L.M., & Natcher, A. L. (2009). Coping strategy use, personality, and adjustment of parents rearing children with developmental disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 53, 998-1013.

Glidden, L.M., Bamberger, K.T., Turek, K.T., & Hill, K.L. (2010). Predicting mother/father/child interactions:  Parental personality and well-being, socioeconomic variables and child disability status. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, Special Issue: Families Research, 23, 3-13.

Glidden, L.M. (2012). Family well-being and children with intellectual disability.   In J. A. Burack,  R. M. Hodapp, G. Iarocci, & E. Zigler (Eds.). The Oxford handbook of intellectual disability and development (pp. 303-317).  Oxford, UK:  Oxford University Press.