More than a laughing matter: Perspectives on humor in families having children with disabilities

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Gerald M. Mager


Humor, Families, Disabilities

Subject Categories

Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms | Disability and Equity in Education | Family, Life Course, and Society


The purpose of this study was to learn about the perspectives of families of children with disabilities on humor and their experiences with humor in their daily lives.

A total of six families (32 subjects) participated in this study. The method employed was of a qualitative nature. Data collection included observing family members in their natural settings and conducting in-depth interviews.

The families in this study had a broad understanding of humor. They demonstrated their understanding of humor through the lens of what's fun and funny for them. The families put special emphasis on what humor did for them and those around them, especially in moments of stress and negative emotions. They gave examples of learning how to solve problems with a sense of humor. They appreciated the great value of humor as a communication tool and a form of connecting. They discovered a playful spirit in themselves and developed an optimistic outlook about everything that was happening to them. They even learned how to laugh at themselves through all that "not-so-funny stuff."

Moreover, humor for the families in this study was a part of their complete philosophy of life. Having a sense of humor provided them not only with occasional moments of refreshment in their struggles, but it gave them an approach to life as a whole. Their philosophy consisted of a set of humor principles around positivity, love, inclusion, freedom, and creativity.

Through a humorous approach to life, the families in this study illustrated that disability was no longer an issue for them. They showed that as families they were more normal than abnormal and, as such, were able to achieve "regular" lives. As a result, they made a case against the stereotypical perceptions as sorrowful, grieving people, living in chronic stress and despair because of having disability in their family.


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