Introduction; this study explores cultural beliefs and coping behaviour of families with pre-school disabled children; using culture as one of its variables. It focuses on the household and sees coping with care for a disabled child as an interlinked aspect of coping with life in general. It has been shown (Ingstad, 1988) that ‘in studies of how families cope with the care of a disabled member, culture has been both a neglected and a misused variable etc.’ This has, for instance, led to theories of crisis and coping behaviour postulating more or less universal patterns of reactions with no reservations made about possible cultural diversities (Caplan, 1981; Cullberg, 1966; 1979). As a result, culture has been used as one of the variables in coping with children with disabilities.
Study Objectives; Beliefs and attitudes held by or exhibited by the families of disabled children as they relate to disability. Effects of caring for a disabled child on the family’s activities of daily living. Factors that may influence the caring of a disabled child; e.g. social, economical and political.
Methodology; The study was conducted over a period of four months, from August to November 2005. It was an ethnographic qualitative study that triangulated three methods as follows; 30 in depth interviews, 10 participant observations and 3 focus group discussions. Secondary data as well as field notes were used.
Results; Disability was shown to be caused by factors that did not include the immediate family. The blame was put on the extended family, neighbours, ancestors and other causes. The results of the study show culture as one of many factors that influence the opportunity situation from which choices in coping behaviour are made. Previous life experiences in coping with critical life events were of major importance for how parents came to cope with a disabled child. Socio-economic variables as well as individual character and individual resilience were also seen to influence coping with care of a disabled child.
The results show us that the process of coping is shaped by cultural influences through emotional patterning, expectations of life and future, life experiences and available opportunities. It was noted that culture also provides a frame of reference for critical life events and gives a particular content of meaning to the families. The results show the importance of culture as one of the variables to be considered when carrying out studies of coping with disability