Becoming a Carer for a Child with a Learning Disability
Did you know that you could be a carer and not even realise it? A carer normally refers to an informal carer; that is, they provide care on an ad hoc and unpaid basis. Becoming a carer for a child with a learning disability usually happens when your child or one to whom you are related is first diagnosed. It is not necessarily something you choose to do, but rather is a role taken up out of necessity.
ResponsibilitiesStudies have indicated that there are about 5.7 million carers in Britain, although the number of those caring for a child with a learning disability was not specifically determined. Up to half of those caring for a child with learning disabilities had to leave employment to care for the child.
A carer for a child with a learning disability faces a heavy burden of responsibility and extra work. It often takes a toll in other areas of their life, including the health of their marriage and their own mental health. Their child's difficulties often mean the carer ends the day exhausted and with high levels of stress. An overwhelming majority of carers worry daily about their child's future.
Time demands of caring for a child with learning disabilities have a significant impact on the felt burden of the carer. Their child's physical health is also an important factor in the stress placed on a caring parent.
ChallengesOne fact that makes the life of a carer even more challenging is that other emotional and behavioural difficulties often accompany a learning disability. To improve the manageability of life for the carer, it is essential to make the most of any available support from professionals, local authorities and volunteers.
Carers of a child with learning disabilities frequently receive support from other children in the home, spouses and friends. However, carers often feel isolated from their network of friends and family.
RespiteGiven the strain that caring for a child places on the carer, some councils have organised respite carer programs. A respite carer looks after the child for a short time in order to give regular the regular carer a break.
The learning disability charity Mencap conducted research that found seven in 10 families have "approached or reached a breaking point when they feel they cannot go on." Providing short breaks away from their duties can give a carer time to refresh and recharge. In most situations, providing respite care one night a week can greatly enhance the caring experience. A respite carer may also approach the visit with much more energy than the full-time carer. The child may benefit from a higher level of individual attention and unique activities.
In most cases, if you become a respite carer (or "short breaks" carer) of a child with a learning disability, you will look after the child in her or her own home. It is best to consistently care for the same child regularly. Caring for a different child each time would make it impossible to build up a good relationship.
One of the key requirements for reducing the strain and life restrictions placed on carers by their situation is to build relationships with other carers. Another strategy for improving the coping skills of carers is to supply adequate information as early as possible after initial diagnosis.