Methods: We use data from the 2011 Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, a population-based sample of 10,317 Wisconsin high school graduates of 1957 and their selected siblings. In 2011, participants were first asked about the quality of their relationship with each of their children. Our final sample include 157 adult children with I/DD (Mage = 42) and 336 non-disabled adult children (Mage = 44) who were nested within 149 aging parents who had at least one adult child with I/DD. We conduct multilevel analyses using parental reports on their relationships with each of their adult children. This method allows us to examine whether parents report different feelings toward their child with I/DD from their other non-disabled children (i.e., within-family differences). To measure the relationship quality, we calculate ambivalence scores, indicating simultaneous and contradictory positive (solidarity) and negative (conflictl) feelings of parents toward adult children. We also test interactions of parent-child gender dyads by the child’s I/DD status.
Results: Aging parents report feeling less close (B = -0.58, p < .001), more conflictual (B = 0.30, p < .001), and more ambivalent (B = 0.63, p < .001) toward their adult child with I/DD than their non-disabled children. However, differences in conflict and ambivalence are no longer evident once child characteristics are controlled, especially after taking into account normative adulthood milestones such as whether a child is currently married and working in a competitive setting. The interaction effects of gender dyads by the child’s I/DD status on ambivalence and conflict are significant, suggesting that mothers’ perception is negatively affected by the child’s I/DD status, especially when their daughter has I/DD, while fathers perceive comparable levels of conflict and ambivalence toward their sons and daughters with I/DD and those without disabilities.
Conclusions and Implications: Aging parents perceive greater conflict and ambivalence toward their child with I/DD than their non-disabled children. Achieving normative adulthood milestones is a highly contributing factor to lessen parents’ negative feelings toward their child with I/DD. Social workers working with families of an adult with I/DD should assist aging parents to identify strategies to manage their complex feelings toward their child with I/DD. It is also important for social workers to acknowledge the importance of providing services on employment and independent living of adults with I/DD not only from an individual but also from a family perspective.