This Father’s Day, I’m looking forward to spending time with my family – I have a wife and three children – one girl, Sanna who is 14 and two boys, Uzair, 10 and Muhammed, 5.
It is worth noting that I have a learning disability, and I am concerned that there are still people who believe that individuals with a learning disability, like me, aren’t able to look after their children properly – or even that they should not have children at all.
There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK and it is estimated that 7 per cent (56,500) are parents but that only half actually live with or look after their children. I think the reason so many people with a learning disability have their child taken away is because of negative attitudes. The authorities think parents with a learning disability are unable to care for their children properly.
One example is a case that happened earlier this year. A judge ordered a 4-year-old boy would be taken away from his parents, who both had a learning disability, despite “serious failings” in adult services which didn’t provide the right level of support the father needed. I think if the parents had been given the support they needed think the family would have been able to stay together.
These attitudes need to change. Having a learning disability does not mean that you can’t look after your children – it just means that you may need extra support to help you become the best parent you can be.
Being a dad is very, very special. I remember when my paternity leave finished and I went back to work, I couldn’t wait to get back home again. I have some very special memories from watching my children grow up, celebrating their birthdays, when they first started school. It is not fair that other people with a learning disability are not able to have these opportunities as well, just because of how other people think.
My learning disability means that some things can be more difficult for me, but that does not mean I should not be a father. It has its challenges, it is a big responsibility but I love it. When we had our first child, it was very exciting. It felt like our family was coming together and once my two boys were born, our family felt complete. I know the support that I have had has made a big difference.
Being a dad with a learning disability can be an uphill struggle sometimes. Understanding letters and paperwork can be hard. For example, when my children were born, getting the birth certificate was tough. If the forms used simpler language, parents with a learning disability would be able to understand them much more easily.
Helping my children with their schoolwork can also be a challenge. Some of the subjects they study are hard to understand. Dealing with the teachers at my children’s schools can be a bit of an obstacle too. I have told them I have a learning disability, but they don’t understand what that means – it would be better if they took more time to understand.
Lack of understanding and negative attitudes towards people with a learning disability is something that happens every day, in every area of life. In employment for example, I’m one of 6 per cent of people with a learning disability who have a job. My job means I can support my family, but many other people with a learning disability who are able to work, and would like to, are unable to get a job because of negative attitudes from employers. It worries me to think what would happen to me and my family if I lost my job.
There needs to be more support for parents with a learning disability and attitudes need to change. There needs to be a commitment to managing things in a positive way instead of going to the extreme of taking child away from their parents and getting solicitors involved. Breaking up families and relationships is not the answer.
If people with a learning disability are given the right support, support which suits their needs, they can be fantastic parents.
We’re all people at the end of the day – people first, not the disability. Everyone has the right to have children, the right to get married. With Learning Disability Week ahead of us, now is a better time than ever to understand how we can improve life for the 1.4 million people in the country who are living with a Learning Disability