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mum and daughter hugging credit iStockphoto.com/alvar

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In Australia around 3% of the population have a learning difficulty or intellectual disability, with approximately 1.5% of families with at least one parent with a learning difficulty.

 
Having an intellectual disability doesn’t make you a bad parent, but it might mean you face more challenges than other people. With the right support, you can be a great parent and raise your children well.

About parenting with an intellectual disability or learning difficulty

An intellectual disability is a problem with learning or understanding things, solving problems, concentrating and remembering.

Having an intellectual disability doesn’t mean you lack parenting skills or that you can’t parent as well as other people. 

In fact, you can do a great job of raising your children if you have:

  • the right support from friends, family and other community services
  • people to help you learn the skills you need.

And parenting with an intellectual disability has many rewards. These often come from the ways families and children adapt to the situation. For example, you might find that you’re raising children who are very caring and kind, sensitive and responsive to the needs of others, tolerant and compassionate, mature, appreciative of their own health, responsible, independent and empathetic. 

I have a learning disorder, problems with reading and writing. This means I can’t help the kids as much as I’d like to with their homework ... But we did a parenting program over the last 18 months and it taught us how to keep the kids amused at my house – now my place is more kid-friendly ... Now both the kids say they love coming to stay with me and it helps give my ex-wife a break. We couldn’t have got there without doing the program.
– Tony, father of two children

Challenges of being a parent with an intellectual disability

Intellectual ability or disability on its own doesn’t determine a person’s ability to be a good parent. It’s usually more to do with the challenges that can come with having an intellectual disability. These challenges can make it harder for people to cope with looking after children.

For example, if you have an intellectual disability, you might also:

  • find it hard to get a job and make enough money to support your family or live in a comfortable house
  • have mental and physical health problems
  • not have anyone to guide you in being a parent
  • have trouble understanding some of the parenting information that’s out there
  • have trouble getting services and support to help you.

That’s why parents with intellectual disability need support. Having the right support and help from other people can help parents deal with some of these extra challenges.

Worries about being judged
One of the biggest challenges people with intellectual disability face is being judged on their ability to raise their children. Other people often think that people with intellectual disability aren’t capable of providing suitable care for their children because of their disability.

If you have an intellectual disability you might worry about seeking help from support services in your community. But getting support services is one of the keys to ensuring that you’re the best parent to your child.

It’s always OK to ask for help. Speak to your GP for more information about support services you might be able to access. 

I’ve loved watching my kids grow up and change. They know that I spend a lot of my time volunteering with the SES and at a nursing home, and they understand that sometimes our visiting arrangements need to change at the last minute. They also love that I do this work and they can see that helping people is a good thing. This year my goal is to do a TAFE course in reading and writing so I can help them more as they go through school.
– Tony, father or two children
 
 
 
  • Last updated or reviewed 16-10-2017