Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Denise Hien

Committee Members

Steven Tuber

Lissa Weinstein

Diana Puñales

Benjamin Harris

Katherine Oram

Subject Categories



Learning Disabilities; Parents


This dissertation examined the psychological experience of parents whose children have been diagnosed with moderate to severe learning disabilities (LD) and compared the impact of a child's learning disability across two groups of parents: one with LD and one without LD. In-depth semi-structured interviews were administered to eleven parents of children with LD, four of whom had LD themselves, and seven of whom did not have LD. Three levels of qualitative data analysis were employed to code the interviews resulting in four theoretical constructs: (1) Diagnosis as a Threat to Parental Narcissism; (2) Parents Engage Containing and Stabilizing Strategies; (3) The Centrality of Schools and Professionals; (4) Striving Toward Acceptance. The findings suggested that those parents with LD and those parents whose early relational experiences were characterized by gross parental misattunement were more vulnerable to narcissistic trauma. The findings revealed similarities and differences in the ways parents with and without LD contained their fears and anxieties and stabilized self-esteem. School personnel and other professionals came to represent 'holding' or invalidating entities and were central influences in these parents' experiences. Finally, parents' journeys toward acceptance were complex, characterized by moments of personal transformation and healing along with lack of resolution and ongoing periods of insecurity. Mourning processes and a capacity to achieve psychological separation from one's child appeared crucial to healing, feats that were more complex for parents with LD. The findings from this study contribute to a greater understanding of the experience of parents of children with LD, and inform recommendations for professionals who work with these parents.

Included in

Psychology Commons