Date Published: July 26, 2017
Author(s): Clever Taderera, Herna Hall.
Parenting children with learning disabilities requires a high level of knowledge and access to resources, information and services. In developing countries, however, these resources and services are not always available. Parents in Namibia, a developing country, therefore face challenges addressing children’s learning and other developmental disabilities, including challenges related to preventative and supportive interventions.
This research focuses on challenges faced by parents as they parent children with learning disabilities in Opuwo, Namibia.
In-depth interviews were conducted with eight parents regarding the challenges they face in parenting their children with learning disabilities. Thematic analysis enabled the researchers to identify, analyse and report on themes that emerged from the qualitative interview data.
Analysis of the interviews indicated that some participants had only a vague understanding of learning disabilities, as they did not have access to essential knowledge about this phenomenon. They also lacked an awareness of the availability of programmes, services and policies meant to benefit their children with learning disabilities. Participants voiced that they, their children with learning disabilities and community members have stereotypes and prejudices regarding learning disabilities. In this study, most of the children with learning disabilities were raised by single, unemployed parents who seemed to have access to less support from external sources than married couples parenting children with learning disabilities. These single parents are usually not married and because of lack of financial support from the other parent, the majority of them indicated that they struggle to meet the financial and material needs of their children.
The researchers concluded that the participants in this study experience a range of challenges in parenting their children with learning disabilities. The main challenges emanate from financial instability, as well as lack of knowledge regarding services and programmes for children with learning disabilities. This lack of knowledge on the part of participants could indicate poor policy education by policy implementers at grass-roots level.
When parents learn that their child has a learning disability (LD), ‘they begin a journey that takes them into a life that is often filled with strong emotions and difficult choices’ (Kalek 2008:20). Flack (2005:318) mentions inherent difficulties in defining learning disabilities, but presents ‘learners with special educational needs’ and what she describes as ‘the more in vogue, learners with barriers to learning’ as possible definitions. In the African context, the term learning ‘disabilities’ refers to children who experience learning challenges without presenting with obvious physical disabilities and who struggle with comprehension to a greater extent than the average child (Abosi 2007).
In this study, parents are defined as persons who are in custody of and take a series of actions to promote the development of a child (Musweu 2009 in Grobler 2012). Parenting is therefore the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood (Mumbuna 2010). Burke (2008) postulates that parents do not necessarily have to be a couple caring for the child together, but could be a single parent.
The goal of this study was to explore and describe the challenges faced by parents of children with learning disabilities in Opuwo, Namibia. As social workers, the researchers have an interest in the social functioning of such parents. Challenges faced have a direct influence on social functioning. Specific objectives were to (1) contextualise learning disabilities as well as parenting as phenomena by reviewing the literature, (2) to explore and describe the challenges of parenting children with learning disabilities from the perspectives of the parents in this study and (3) to make recommendations for practitioners regarding the experiences of parents who parent children with learning disabilities in similar contexts.
In this study the researchers aimed to obtain an in-depth understanding of the experiences of parents in parenting children with LDs. Based on Kumar’s (2011) characteristics of qualitative research, namely an unstructured, flexible and open approach to enquiry, this study was qualitatively rooted in order to obtain an in-depth understanding of these experiences.
It became clear from the research that parents of children with LDs face a range of challenges, such as difficulties accessing information, services and programmes. The fragmented nature of these services may add to the challenges experienced in this regard. These findings support those of Abosi (2007), who argues that LDs are often not clearly understood in African contexts (Abosi 2007). Participants were also uninformed regarding essential policies meant to benefit their children with learning disabilities.