Attitudes to disabled children: the good, the bad and the change needed

We held a survey with MumsNet this week. It found 6 out of 10 parents of disabled children find activities – like play groups, youth clubs and leisure centres – shut out their son or daughter.

What’s shocking is that it’s not about access or specialist equipment. It’s about the attitudes and understanding of other parents and people running the activities. These make the biggest difference to whether disabled children have the chance to play and mix with other kids.

Thanks for sharing your experiences on our blog, Facebook and Twitter.  Here’s some of what you said — and how we can make a change.

The good

It’s encouraging to hear great examples of local activities welcoming disabled children, and how there seems to have been a change for the better over recent years.

“I help on a Scout camp for Scouts with special needs who may find camp with their own group difficult. I have been going for more than 25 years. When this was first set up, integration was virtually unheard of. Thankfully young ones are in their local Scout groups having fun with their peers and going camping without problems now.” – Dawn

“My daughter has an autism spectrum disorder. Our local gymnastics club has been brilliant. The club is now looking to expand and have more facilities and classes for children with additional needs.” – Mandy

“I always go to local groups with my disabled daughter! No one blinks an eye. We do live in a village where everyone knows everyone so they all know me and my daughter. We’ve never had a problem and I count myself very lucky.” – Charlotte

“My son had been made to feel very welcome by the Scouts and is loving it. Apart from development delay and an autistic spectrum disorder, he also had epilepsy. They are happy to have extra training on how to deal with a seizure. Very impressed. The children have been completely accepting of my son which in itself is great.” – Susan

The bad

We heard of many local activities shutting out disabled children. This echoed the findings of our survey with MumsNet.

“My daughter was thrown out of Brownies for being too disabled and asked to wait for a group that was more ‘disabled friendly’. Still hurts today and that was 12 years ago.” – Trina

“Find it hard to find play facilities, such as swings in parks and so on, that cater for children in wheelchairs.” – Dorren

The change needed

It’s clear from what parents say, that many local activities need to change so that more disabled children can take part.

Here are a few ways you’ve dealt with the challenges yourself.

“I offer to stay in the next room, so she gets her independence at the group but so I’m in the vicinity should she need me or should they need advice. Local drama group were very supportive.” – Emma

“Persistence! Our daughter with cerebral palsy is in Rainbows – part of the Girl Guides. It wasn’t easy finding a group who could take her. Then there was a lot of red tape and medical forms to fill in. In the end it was all worth it.” – Shelly-Ann

“I was careful to choose clubs that weren’t too busy. We chose Beavers because the leader said, “Why hasn’t he come with you – go and get him!” when I went to enquire.” – Adele

It’s great that some parents have found ways to deal with the problems or started their own activities, but the obstacles shouldn’t be there in the first place.

The Government is writing new guidelines on how councils should make sure disabled children can take part in local activities. We want them to support organisers and be clear on how activities should be run.

Everyone must play their part. We need commitment at every level to making sure disabled children can play, just like any child. As someone from the US Department of Education tweeted when they heard about our survey:

5 thoughts on “Attitudes to disabled children: the good, the bad and the change needed”

  1. When my daughter, who has cerebral palsy, was small (she’s now 26) i was so impressed with our local Rainbows group. When she attended their ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ they asked me how much assistance she needed to eat because ‘they didn’t want to embarrass her by giving her help she didn’t need’.

  2. Without meaning to sound negative and ungrateful. Even though inclusion is good and more awareness is great. What secretly annoys me is how I’m expected to be grateful when parents (friends and family) gush on about how great their own child is with my daughter. Never that my daughter is often underestimated and the other way round. My daughter is great with their child. A lot of the time I actually secretly think to myself. Well no actually, I don’t think your child is the greatest with my daughter.

  3. As always the biggest problem is the huge range of disabilities there are. My Son now 13 has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, seizures and gastric reflux. We haven’t even got a play park with wheelchair swings or indeed any facilities. It’s about time a little consideration was made to all needs.

  4. Sad to hear that even 12 years ago attitudes like those of Trina’s daughter’s Brownie pack leaders were still held. I have right-sided hemiplegia and was in the Brownies in the early ’80s. I was constantly excluded from Brownie activities – I remember being told I wouldn’t be allowed to take my Water Rescuer badge (after training for it every Saturday morning for months) and I wasn’t told that I was being tested for my Hostess badge the following week; my mother only found out from one of her friends on the day and she and my late grandmother didn’t believe me when I said nobody’d bothered to tell me. Plus all the games my Brownie pack played involved running and I would often fall over or get tripped trying to play these games.

  5. My kids who are on the spectrum and have epilepsy are welcomed by attitude performing arts school and viper mai tai boxing , their Dad has become a helper in the Beavers so he can be involved and welcome other kids into the colony who have additional
    needs . There’s no holding them back . They have been in shows ( 2 last year) and it truly has helped language development and confidence and socialising don’t let others hold you back do what you want to do ( as long as its legal) !

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