Lecture at Teachers College
If it was just another
dreary and wet pre-spring day outdoors, the scene inside Grace
Dodge Hall at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College was something
else entirely. There, Professor Loraine Masters Glidden was proffering
a fresh departure from decades of conventional wisdom about disabled
children and their families.
That day, Glidden,
chair of the psychology department at St. Mary’s College of Maryland,
explained how disabled children don’t necessarily affect depression,
anxiety, and stress in their parents, and often grow up emotionally
balanced. She called the talk, which was delivered as the 2003
Leonard and Frances Blackman Lecture, “Positive Psychology and
Rearing Children with Developmental Disabilities: Still Happy
After All These Years?” And the answer is Yes.
has been a shift in the zeitgeist in the last decade,” Glidden
said. “People were beginning to look at families who had children
with disabilities in a somewhat different light. They were beginning
to back off of the notion of chronic sorrow, of crisis, of pathology,
and we’re beginning to look and find more positive outcomes.”
In her talk, she
explained how her long-term study of over a hundred families showed
that “parents rearing children with disabilities report many positive
outcomes,” and how parents’ personalities “especially general
mental health and stability, influence long-term adjustment.”
Her conclusions, she found, applied to children with all sorts
of developmental disabilities, ranging from Down Syndrome (37
percent of her sample) to Cerebral Palsy (15 percent) to Fetal
Alcohol Syndrome (3 percent). And, perhaps most strikingly, her
conclusions applied to both adoptive parents and birth parents.
of the long-term positive adaptation,” she said, “the birth families…
didn’t differ from the adoptive families—who you expect to have
good functioning because they chose to do this and were vetted
by the agencies. The fact that [adoptive families] were doing
real well is not surprising. But that the birth families were
doing so well was a departure from conventional wisdom.”
Glidden, who is
president of the division on mental retardation and developmental
disabilities of the American Psychological Association, said she
thought the talk went off well.
the comments I got afterwards, there was a lot of interest. I
think basically, the audience was pretty interested in the topic,
and there were multiple questions.”
Now in its fourth
year, the Blackman Lecture is sponsored by the Teacher’s College
Center for Opportunities and Outcomes for People with Disabilities.
Professor Linda Hickson, who helps run the center, said “We all
thought it was the best ever.”
a former professor at Teacher’s College, also attended the conference.
He worked with Glidden during the 1970s when she held a post at
Teacher’s College, and the two shared an interest in developmental
disabilities. That, Hickson explained, is why Blackman suggested
her for the talk.
Glidden said her
findings are in keeping with a sea change in family psychology
regarding positive psychology. Past research, she explained, has
always been focused on depression and negative emotional indicators,
but researchers in the last two decades have come to regard positive
indicators as equally important in explaining family interaction.
to find positive outcomes it is necessary to look for them,” she
said in her presentation. “We need to study strength and resilience
as much as stress and burden. Optimal human functioning is as
important to study as impaired functioning. We must learn to promote
the positive as well as prevent the negative.”#
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