The approach that parents take with their children who have developmental disabilities is directly tied to how cooperative and independent they become, new research suggests.
In an analysis of existing studies looking at the influence of parenting on children with special needs, researchers found that when moms and dads employed so-called positive parenting, their kids exhibited greater independence, better language skills, stronger emotional expression and social interaction as well as improved temperament.
“In households where positive parenting is applied, the symptoms and severity of the child’s disability are more likely to decrease over time,” said Tim Smith of Brigham Young University who worked on the study, which was published in the journal Research in Developmental Disabilities this month.
“Research has consistently shown that the earlier and more consistently positive parenting is provided, the greater the child’s development,” he said.
Smith and his colleagues identified three main approaches to parenting. Permissive moms and dads are accepting and not demanding, while authoritarian parents are more controlling of their kids. Positive parents fall in the middle, striking a balance by allowing their child self-will while also maintaining expectations of discipline.
Despite the clear benefits observed from the balanced approach, researchers said that taking the middle road can be especially challenging when a child has a disability.
“When you think of parenting a child with a developmental disability, it might be more intuitive to be authoritarian and assume that the child can’t figure out things alone. On the other hand, with a child who has autism, it may seem easier and less contentious to be more permissive with the child and thereby avoid conflict,” said Tina Dyches of Brigham Young University who also worked on the review. “But there needs to be a balance. A child with a disability should not be subject to different rules in a family, nor be the center of a family.”
The findings from the analysis are among the first to assess the role of parenting style specifically in kids with developmental disabilities, researchers said. Thousands of studies exist examining parenting of typically developing children, but researchers behind the new review say they found just 14 studies between 1990 and 2008 focusing on those with autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities.
Despite the small body of research, however, the benefits of positive parenting are clear for children with all types of developmental disabilities no matter their age, the study found.
Researchers said their findings highlight the importance of promoting effective parenting skills as part of early intervention services.