What do teachers need to understand about working with families who have children with disabilities?

Page 1: Family Composition

family with wheelchairPrincipal Morgan and her teaching staff are pleased at the level of diversity in their student population and among their students’ families. These families bring to their communities a rich variety of perspectives, traditions, languages, educational levels, strengths, and challenges. The composition of these diverse families may vary and may include stepparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. For some, the extended family may also comprise neighbors, clergy, or anyone actively involved in the care of the child. At the school’s weekly staff meeting, Principal Morgan uses a slideshow to illustrate the diversity of the families at M. T. Watkins Middle School.

View the movie to the right to see the slideshow Principal Morgan showed to her staff (time: 1:21).

Family Composition

The slideshow displays fifteen images of children with and without disabilities and their families. There are a variety of family compositions (e.g., single parent, grandparents) represented. A brief description of each slide follows:

Title image: An African American single mom sits at the breakfast table with her son, who wears glasses and has a big smile on his face.

Slide one: It’s a cold fall day, and mom and dad are lying, propped up on their forearms, in a pile of fall leaves with their two sons on top of them.

Slide two: A family is out for a stroll. A man in a wheelchair holds a baby while a woman pushes the wheelchair. Another man walks alongside.

Slide three: A family of three poses for an outdoor picture. The dad stands with an arm around the mom’s shoulder, and both of them rest hands on their son’s shoulders.

Slide four: A mom and her daughter are cooking. The mom holds a saucepan so that her daughter, who is in a wheelchair, is able to stir its ingredients.

Slide five: Nine women, from the very young to the elderly, pose for an outdoor family photo.

Slide six: An ethnically diverse family of three enjoys an outdoor picnic.

Slide seven: An older sister pushes her younger sister, who is in a wheelchair, across a bridge as the two participate in a running event.

Slide eight: Six siblings, close in age and of diverse ethnicity, pose in a wheat field.

Slide nine: A proud new mom has a smile for her new baby.

Slide ten: A mother and her three young children, two daughters and a son, take a stroll through the autumn leaves. The young boy uses a cane.

Slide eleven: A family of five—mom, dad, and three children—sit on their front porch.

Slide twelve: A mom and her two young daughters pose together with their heads touching.

Slide thirteen: An extended family—two teens, one of who is in a wheelchair, a grandmother, three adult women, and a man—stand, arm-in-arm, outside a pizzeria.

Slide fourteen: Sporting hockey jerseys, a family of five, including a young boy in a wheelchair, poses for a picture with the team’s saber-toothed cat mascot.

Slide fifteen: Two teenagers, one of who uses a walker, and their grandparents are together outside.

Following her slideshow presentation, Principal Morgan highlights some key points about families:

    • Families are groups that care for and offer mutual support to their members.
    • Families are interconnected and interdependent: What happens to one member of the family can affect the dynamics of the whole family.
    • Families are defined in a number of ways.

henderson
Anne T. Henderson
Senior Consultant
Community Involvement Program,
Annenberg Institute for School Reform
Washington, DC

Listen to Anne Henderson talk about the various definitions of families (time: 1:46).

View Transcript

Mom and childHaving viewed Principal Morgan’s slideshow, the staff begins to recognize that the families of children with disabilities represent diversity in all the same ways as other families (e.g., composition, size, income, culture, ethnicity). Principal Morgan informs them that, according to national statistics, disability affects one in five persons. The staff wants to learn how to support and include these families as they would any other, and they’re determined to look for ways to help them to be involved at whatever level they can.

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