Objective The aim was to clarify how families with physically and/or intellectually disabled children cope, what kind of coping strategies they use and how the families with good and poor coping capacities differ.
Methods The parents of eight children (aged 8–10 years) with physical and/or intellectual disability were interviewed twice, and the data elicited in these interviews were analysed qualitatively using the grounded theory method.
Results Information and acceptance, good family co-operation and social support were related to the coping strategies most frequently used. Half of the families seemed to have found successful ways of coping, whereas another half had major problems. There were five main domains in which the high- and low-coping families differed most from each other: (1) parents’ initial experiences; (2) personal characteristics; (3) effects of the child’s disability on family life; (4) acting in everyday life; and (5) social support.
Conclusion The findings can be utilized in developing supportive activities for families with disabled children. By recognizing the coping strategies used by the family, professionals and service providers can find the right ways to support their adaptation. As the role of physicians, nursing staff and other professionals in this process is very important, more attention should be attached to the collaboration between these groups, to enable them to view the situation from the perspective of the whole family.