Fathers of children with intellectual disability need support, conference told

Fathers of children with an intellectual disability are very keen to be involved in their children’s lives, a major nursing conference in Dublin heard.

Dr Lynne Marsh from the School of Nursing at University College Cork looked at Irish men’s experience of having a child with an intellectual disability.

She interviewed 10 men aged between 31 and 48 years — the youngest child was just 13 months, and the oldest was five years.

Six of the children had Down syndrome and four had global development delays — they were not reaching their milestones, such as crawling and walking.

One father only realised that his child had an intellectual disability at age four. Autism was also suspected.

Another father who knew prenatally that his child had Down syndrome and said it helped him to prepare for his daughter’s birth.

However, the child was very unwell when she was born and her survival became the priority.

“Fathers are definitely very keen to talk about their children. They couldn’t wait to talk to me,” said Dr Marsh, study co-author.

“One father said it was only when his child was three that anybody asked him what it was like becoming a father to a child with an intellectual disability.”

Dr Marsh said healthcare professionals needed to understand that every father’s entry into the world of disability was unique and that they needed support.

“We look after mothers very well but having a child with an intellectual disability is a life-changing event for fathers as well and they need to be equally involved.”

Dr Marsh pointed out that there are over 8,000 children with intellectual disabilities registered in Ireland, and most lived at home.

“The fathers I spoke to were all excited by the birth of their children and their whole outlook changed as a result. They did not sweat the small stuff and felt they were better people.”

The 35th International Nursing and Midwifery Research and Education conference at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland was attended by over 200 nurses and midwives.


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