Growing Up Disabled: Impairment, Familial Relationships and Identity

  • Brian Watermeyer


Psychology’s construction of the reverberations of disability in families has been heavily criticized for an inattention to contextual factors shaping broad family functioning, as well as responses to a disabled member. Psychoanalysis, in particular, has pathologized parental relationships with disabled children, emphasizing ideas such as loss, shame and ‘chronic sorrow’. Against a ‘social model’ backdrop, a family support model instead identifies avoidable, socially engendered disadvantage faced by families as a counter to individualizing (family) analyses. Meanwhile, growing interest in psycho-emotional aspects of disability has focused attention on internalized oppression, and hence disablist socialization. In any population, it is argued, the family is crucial in mediating the developing self, drawing attention to intra- as well as extra-familial variables. In this chapter, the author uses his own experience of inherited visual impairment to explore the divide between family-centred, politically aligned analyses of ‘disability families’, and psychological approaches curious about intra-psychic and relational implications of impairment. Conclusions are that these viewpoints both highlight and obscure essential elements of family experience, indicating the need for a new theoretical and political synthesis.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian Watermeyer
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa

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