Almost two-thirds of parents miss social engagements due to fear of public reactions to their disabled child

Survey of over 1000 parents of children with a learning disability highlights how concern about public attitudes towards learning disability leave parents feeling isolated and unwelcome in public

mencap-logoMencap is calling on the public to offer more support to parents of children with a learning disability, after a survey of 1,000 parents revealed that 70% have felt unwelcome in public, almost two-thirds miss social engagements and 21% have been asked to leave public spaces with their child who has a learning disability.

Despite parents saying attitudes have improved it’s clear a bad experience is having long-term effects – with parents we spoke to saying they have missed their best friend’s wedding, had their child told he needed to stay in the garden away from other children, and others saying the public are “are afraid of what they don’t understand.”

Mencap is calling on the public to be more accepting towards children with a learning disability – to think and not judge and instead offer support to help end this isolation. For parents of children with a learning disability who are suffering, a new online community has been set up by Mencap, FamilyHub, offering peer-to-peer support for parents.

Key findings from the survey of over 1000 parents include:

  • 70% of parents said they have felt unwelcome when out in public with their child
  • 21% of parents said their child has been asked to leave a public place because of behaviour resulting from their learning disability
  • 63% of parents said they have chosen to miss an engagement in the last 12 months due to concerns about how the public will react to their child
  • 41% of parents said they feel other parents are somewhat or very unhappy for their child to spend time with their children
  • 50% of parents think public attitudes towards children with a learning disability are negative
  • But 43% believe attitudes towards people with a learning disability have improved.

The survey was carried out to highlight Mencap’s 70th birthday and how attitudes have changed since the movement was started by Judy Fryd, a mother who wrote a letter to Nursey World Magazine asking for support from other parents.

Ramya Kumar mother of 9-year-old Rishi who has autism and a related learning disability, said:

“From our experiences public attitudes towards individuals who are differently abled are still extremely negative and not much has changed since Rishi was born. It is particularly difficult when people don’t realise Rishi deals and interacts with people and his surrounding world differently. When he behaves in a way other people don’t understand, I end up explaining his condition and apologising for him and I feel I shouldn’t have to.

“I was once asked that I keep Rishi in the garden instead of taking him along into their house, because of his behaviour, a behaviour which is a result of his Autism, something he can’t control.

“We feel extremely isolated and outcast from society because I feel they don’t understand or want to understand my son and his and our challenges, and that makes people act awkwardly and drift away from us.”

Rossanna Trudgian, Head of Campaigns at Mencap, said: 

“Public attitudes may have improved in the 70 years Mencap has existed, but as a society we should feel ashamed to have such little acceptance to children who may sometimes act differently to others. It’s heart-breaking that not only are children with a learning disability being dropped off birthday invite lists or being asked to stay in the garden away from other children, but almost a third of parents have felt forced to miss social engagements, such as their best friend’s wedding.

“The good news is that solving this can be easy, inexpensive and life-changing for parents. If the public can think and not judge when they see a child behaving differently and instead offer support and acceptance this suffering could end overnight. Parents who dedicate their life to the love of their children shouldn’t have to feel the constant need to apologise if they are different.

“There’s a lot of confusion around learning disability, but gaining a bit more understanding could change the lives of parents who have said in such large numbers that they are in need of help. For anyone worried about how to react around children with a learning disability, we urge people to pause and realise it’s ok to feel awkward, but to still engage and help end this isolation so many parents are feeling.”

Mencap’s FamilyHub is a platform that enables parents and carers of people with a learning disability to offer peer-to-peer support. The community can be found at www.mencap.org.uk/familyhub and www.community.mencap.org.uk.

About Mencap 

There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.

www.mencap.org.uk

For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap Direct on 0808 808 1111 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday) or email help@mencap.org.uk

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