Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging
Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging

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Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging

1.2 Parents with learning disabilities

Eugenics (see Session 2) had a big influence on how people with learning disabilities were treated in the past. Fears about people with learning disabilities having children led to people being segregated in institutions, and sometimes sterilised without their consent (Tilley et al., 2012).

Described image
Figure 1 People with learning disabilities can, and do, parent

Today, people with learning disabilities can and do have children. But they are often discouraged from doing so. People with learning disabilities are also over-represented in the Child Protection system in many countries (Tarleton, 2015).

People with learning disabilities face a lot of barriers to being the best parents they can, often based on little more than other people’s negative expectations about their abilities. But research has also shown that with tailored support in place, people with learning disabilities can and do parent effectively (Tarleton, 2015). While children’s needs and welfare are paramount, ‘parenting with support’ can lead to positive benefits for both parents with learning disabilities and their children.

Activity 3 A parenting story

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Read this real life case study about Maggi and David in the link below then answer the question that follows. (You should open the link in a new tab by holding down Ctrl (or Cmd on a Mac) when you click on the link.)

Link: Maggi and David’s story [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Select from the list below the factors that helped Maggi and David keep their family together after Anne was born:


Early support from KeyRing


Ongoing involvement from Flying Start


Negative attitudes from some professionals


Clear explanations to Maggi and David about what was expected of them


A supportive and encouraging midwife and health visitor


Support from their wider family


Offensive comments from one social worker


A belief that they could be good parents with the right support

The correct answers are a, b, d, e, f and h.

This interview was recorded in 2009. Ten years on, in 2019, Maggi was interviewed again. She revealed that Anne is now approaching secondary school age and she and David have another child, Edward, who is 7. The family have moved to a new home. Maggi has also recently been diagnosed with dyspraxia, a developmental disorder that affects physical co-ordination. She no longer considers herself to have a learning disability because recent assessments have shown her IQ is higher than professionals previously understood. Maggie thinks a lot of the difficulties she experienced in her earlier life were due to her own upbringing and her undiagnosed dyspraxia.

Looking back to when Anne was a baby, Maggi can appreciate she received some useful support, but also thinks that being labelled 'learning disabled' led a lot of professionals to make unfair assumptions about what she could and couldn't do. David does have learning disabilities, and Maggi supports him when he needs help. She also said she thinks that parents with any disability need more understanding and her message to professionals is: ‘Do not judge until you’ve walked a mile in someone’s shoes.’


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