Abstract: Communicating Difficult News to Parents of Children with Disabilities: The Role of Emotion in Sensemaking

◆ Zachary P. Hart, Northern Kentucky University

Parents of children with disabilities are frequently given news that is difficult to hear and can be very traumatic. Whether parents are receiving an initial diagnosis or assessment data of their child’s academic performance, emotional reactions to the information almost always occur and are central to the sensemaking process as parents give meaning to what they have learned (Grant, Rodger, and Hoffman, 2015). Their emotions impact actions they take as parents and decisions they make for their child. Too often, the emotional component of communicating medical, educational and social information to parents of children with disabilities is minimized even though it has a significant influence on the meaning parents give to information. Professionals sometimes assume parents can objectively receive information that is often communicated in a technical and clinical way and do not give parents the time to emotionally process what they have learned, which can affect parental ability to take actions that could be critical to caring for their child (Carlsson, Starke, and Mattsson, 2017). This poster session presents the results from a series of focus groups with 21 parents of children with disabilities who discussed their emotional reactions to information communicated to them about medical, educational and social concerns. They also discussed the sensemaking they experienced as they processed and gave meaning to information in these contexts. Several themes emerged that describe the centrality of emotion in the sensemaking process. Implications for provider-parent interactions also will be presented.