Mencap calls for greater public support for parents of children with learning disabilities

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UK charity Mencap has called on the public to show more support for parents of children with a learning disability.

The plea follows a survey of 1,000 parents that revealed that 70 per cent have felt unwelcome in public, almost two-thirds miss social engagements and just over one in five have been asked to leave public spaces with their child who has a learning disability.

Among the incidents parents reported were missing their best friend’s wedding and having their child told he needed to stay in the garden away from other children.

The charity says the public needs to be more accepting towards children with a learning disability: to think and not judge, and instead offer support to help end this isolation. It has also set up a new online community – FamilyHub – to offer peer-to-peer support for parents who find themselves in similar situations.

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 Nursery World Magazine asking for support from other parents. The survey found that while half of parents think public attitudes towards children with a learning disability are negative 43 per cent believe they have improved.

Ramya Kumar mother of nine-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 two-thirds 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 okay to feel awkward, but to still engage and help end this isolation so many parents are feeling.

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Special World, from Inclusive Technology, is a free website linking 125,000 special education teachers, speech therapists and occupational therapists in 150 countries. Special World readers and contributors work with children who have additional needs or special educational needs including those with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties and disabilities.

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