Relate Sussex calls for increased support for parents

The early years that were the most difficult, says Donna Elston from Rustington, pictured with her son David in 2013 W15130H13
The early years that were the most difficult, says Donna Elston from Rustington, pictured with her son David in 2013 W15130H13

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, many couples will be making plans for a romantic evening, but for parents of a child with a learning disability this may be easier said than done.

New research has found nearly a quarter find time for a date night only once a year or less, compared to less than a fifth of other parents.

The same study also found four in ten parents of a child with a learning disability identified money worries as a strain on their relationship – compared to 29 per cent of other parents.

The study also found one in three are in a relationship which would be described in the counselling room as ‘distressed’.

Relationships charities Relate and Relationships Scotland have prepared a report, sponsored by learning disability charity Mencap, on the effects a disabled child can have on parents’ relationships.

Rustington mother Donna Elston, whose son David has autism, has spoken out to supports calls for increased support for parents.

“It was the early years that were the most difficult for us,” she said.

“David went to a specialist nursery which was miles away from our home and as my husband works nights it really affected how much time we had together.

“After years of battling with our local authority we were awarded direct payments, which means we now have the option to be able to go out together, like for our recent anniversary.

“Having a child with a learning disability does mean added pressure but David has brought a different world to us, which has been amazing and has driven us to work towards making the world a more accepting place. We just wish that support had been there from the beginning.

“It can be lonely and you have to fight to get the support you need but with David, he’s brought such joy to our lives that you can forget about the strains.

“I’ve found lots of support through social media and the new friends I’ve made have been a lifeline. Parents shouldn’t have to battle to get the childcare they need or be fearful of public attitudes to their child, this support and information should be ready and available from the beginning because it makes all the difference.”

The report, Under Pressure: The relationships of UK parents who have a child with a learning disability, saw more than 5,000 people questioned as part of the study, including 280 parents of a child with a learning disability.

In response to these findings, Relate Sussex is joining national charities Relate, Relationships Scotland and Mencap to call for better access to short breaks services, improved childcare support for parents of children with a learning disability and targeted relationship support.

Jo Carden, centre director at Relate Sussex, said: “We all face challenges in our relationships, but our research shows that parents who have a child with a learning disability face additional pressures.

“Unhappy relationships can have a terrible impact on couples and their children but it doesn’t have to be this way. We know first-hand how counselling can benefit parents of children with a learning disability and we need to make sure it’s available, as part of a wider package of support, to all families in Sussex who need it.”