Mencap logoAlmost two-thirds (63%) of parents of children with learning disabilities say they have missed social engagements in the past 12 months due to the fear of how other people will react to them, a new survey has found.

The survey of 1,000 parents of children with learning disabilities, carried out by Mencap, also found that 70% have felt unwelcome in public and 21% have been asked to leave public spaces because of behaviour resulting from their child’s learning disability. 

In addition, respondents said 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 said the public are “are afraid of what they don’t understand.”

Other findings included 41% of parents saying they felt other parents were somewhat or very unhappy for their child to spend time with their children and 50% think public attitudes towards children with a learning disability are negative.

Despite this, 43% believe attitudes towards people with a learning disability have improved.

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, a new online community has been set up by Mencap, FamilyHub, offering peer-to-peer support for parents.

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.”