Parents Copy


Parents are obviously hugely impacted when their child has disabilities or learning difficulties. They need to understand any diagnoses and what help and support their child will need. One or both parents may have to give up work, meaning one parent is around less as they have to work harder; suddenly they might have to have carers or nurses in the house; the family routine may change to accommodate a child’s medical, learning or behavioural needs. This can significantly change the way a family works. Figures from the UK show that a third of marriages fail after a child is diagnosed with a disability.

Frequently, all or any of this can lead to parents feeling grief, which might include shock or disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression and, eventually, acceptance. These emotions will change day to day, week to week, and year to year.


Often this new family dynamic will mean that one or both parents have less time to spend with the siblings. They might have to spend days or weeks in hospitals, or attending clinic appointments. They may have to supervise or administer therapies and medicines. The family might be restricted in terms of where they can go on holiday or out for day trips. It may be that parents do not have time to help their other children with homework or take them on playdates or to clubs and activities. Parents may have to call on other family members and neighbours to help. Grandparents may step in if the parents are stuck in hospital. Aunts and uncles may take it in turns to drop siblings off to clubs. Neighbours might help with taking kids to and from school.

Image shows a blue character, head in hands and crying. They are surrounded by the same icons denoting jobs that the previous image of a parent showed: washing machine, shirt, soap, ambulance, mop and bucket, shopping bag, book, tray of food, car, medicine and money but the icons have shadows - the same icons in a lighter colour plus some additional ones, nappies, an empty plate, a drinks bottle, calendars/planners, clocks and egg timers - all indicating the additional roles and strains on a parent of a child with additional needs.

Siblings may find themselves having to make a lot of compromises, missed events and activities. Parents missing parents’ evenings, sports days or meetings with the school. This can lead to adults in the child’s life missing out on key information – parents not knowing what is going on at school, and teachers not knowing what is happening at home.

 Sometimes these changes happen suddenly, often they happen gradually as children’s conditions reveal themselves as they grow up. But whether it happens fast or slow, the impact on the parents will also impact the other children in the family.

Impact on the children

The mother of an autistic son, Ben, tells how her teenage daughter, Sami, had a strained relationship with her younger brother. The mother wanted the Sami to be nurturing and loving towards Ben, but she wasn’t. Instead she was very impatient with him and would scream at him. Sami was two when her brother was born, and by the time she was 4 or 5, he began showing signs of autism. At the time, the family did not understand what was going on. Sami watched how Ben disrupted the home and how things seem to revolve around Ben and his needs. Their mother suffered from depression and, as Sami grew up, she also blamed Ben for their mother becoming depressed.  

Key points

~ Make sure you know who are the primary caregivers are in your student’s home and who you should be talking to about their welfare and educational development.

~ A parent’s emotional state will have a big impact on their children’s emotions and behaviour. It will also impact on their dealings with you. Try to be aware of what is going on and be sensitive in your dealings with them.

Two blue characters are standing hand in hand. One is a child, looking up at the adult who has grey hair and a top that has the word 'gran' on it.

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