Using Humor to Cope with A Disability

Nour Yaktine
· 5 min read

Research has found that coping humor predicts positive functioning in parents of children with a disability

When faced with the adversities of everyday life, people tend to cope in many different ways. Using humor as a coping mechanism can be one way of relieving unpleasant emotions. Indeed, research shows that coping humor is associated with lower depression and anxiety. While there are many benefits to the use of humor as a coping tool, less is known about whether having a humorous outlook on life is as effective for families wherein a member has a disability.

Disability refers to any condition, physical or psychological, that makes a person’s ability to perform certain activities and interact with the world around them more difficult. There are several types of disabilities, each potentially affecting different aspects of a person’s life, such as their vision, hearing, movement, mental health, or interpersonal relationships. The term itself encompasses a wide array of conditions; those that are present from birth, those that appear at a certain point in life, those that restrict or limit a person’s ability to navigate their environment as soon as they appear, such as congenital blindness, or those that affect functions later on in life such as hearing loss with age.

In their study, Rieger and McGrail (2013) were interested in evaluating family functioning and coping humor in parents who have a child with a disability. More specifically, the researchers aimed at understanding whether using humor as a coping mechanism contributed to more cohesion and adaptability among family members. These two components (family cohesion or closeness, and adaptability or flexibility) were evaluated as they are considered to be fundamental for adequate and effective family functioning. Coping on the other hand, refers to the strategy that one uses in order to deal with challenges and struggles, such as disability.

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While many parents who have a child with a disability adapt well, disability can stressful for some caregivers as it requires particular medical, financial and emotional attention and resources. For that, Rieger and McGrail (2013) aimed at understanding whether coping with humor would be effective for parents who have a child with a disability, in order to understand whether they should employ such strategies for better interpersonal relationships between family members. Participants were recruited through family support agencies and family support groups (E.g: Down syndrome parent support groups, autism parent support groups). Out of the 72 participants recruited, 59 were mothers and 13 were fathers, aged between 24 to 63 years old. Most parents reported having two to three children in the family, with children’s age ranging from 3 to 19 years old. Finally, different disabilities were reported, such as down syndrome, autism, learning disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, or multiple coexisting disabilities.

Using a self-report scale to evaluate the use of humor as a coping mechanism, as well as questionnaires evaluating family cohesion, adaptability, and overall family functioning, results showed that coping humor predicts family cohesion and flexibility. In other words, the study showed that the more parents of children with disabilities adopt humor as a coping strategy, the more likely the cohesiveness and flexibility among family members. While previous studies have established that coping humor could be beneficial, the results of the current study show that coping humor can be particularly beneficial for families wherein a member has a disability.

In conclusion, humor can be considered a positive coping mechanism that plays a central role in family adjustment. Since lack of humor has been shown to be associated with stress, sadness, depression, burden, and lack of social support within family members, families should consider integrating humor when dealing with day-to-day demands and challenges associated with disability.

It appears that dad jokes are not so bad after all.


Rieger, A., & McGrail, J. P. (2013). Coping Humor and Family Functioning in Parents of Children With Disabilities. Rehabilitation Psychology, 58(1)