Mencap poll finds parents of children with learning disability fear public reaction

Mencap poll finds 70% of parents of children with learning disability have felt unwelcome in public.
A family at home
Almost two-thirds of parents of children with a learning disability say that they have missed a social engagement because of fear about what the public reaction to their child will be, a survey has found. The Mencap poll also found that 70% of parents of children with a learning disability have felt unwelcome in public and a fifth have been asked to leave a public space due to their child’s behaviour, heightening their sense of isolation.

A family's experience

Ramya Kumar, the mother of nine-year-old Rishi, who has autism and a related learning disability, said: “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.”

Results of the poll

The online poll of more than 1,000 parents with a child with a learning disability, published on Wednesday, found that they were pessimistic about public attitudes and sceptical that they are changing for the better. Half think public attitudes towards children with a learning disability are negative and more than half (56%) believe attitudes have either not changed or worsened. Two in five parents said they felt other parents were somewhat, or very, unhappy for their child to spend time with children with learning disabilities and 63% said they had chosen to miss an engagement in the last 12 months because of concerns about public reaction.

How are Mencap making a difference

The charity’s head of campaigns, Rossanna Trudgian, said: “It’s heartbreaking not only that children with a learning disability being dropped off birthday invite lists or are 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. “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 has launched an online community, FamilyHub, offering peer-to-peer support for parents. Mencap urged the public to be more accepting towards children with a learning disability and, rather than unfairly judging them, to offer support to help end isolation.
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