Experiencing motherhood and fatherhood with learning difficulties in Austria: The need for self-determined support

Beth Tarleton, Rahel More*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
81 Downloads (Pure)


1 Background
Many parents with learning difficulties face high rates of child welfare intervention and child removal. In contrast to other high-income countries, there has not been any published research on the lives of mothers and fathers with learning difficulties from an Austrian perspective. After presenting an insight into the international literature and the Austrian context, original empirical findings relevant to providing professional support for parents with learning difficulties are introduced.

2 Method
As part of a larger qualitative study, ten individual parents with learning difficulties (six mothers and four fathers) were interviewed to gain insight into their experience of motherhood and fatherhood. During the interviews, participants were asked to visualise their social networks through network maps that were then included into analyses. The current paper primarily engages with parents’ experience of professional practice based on a hermeneutic analysis of latent and manifest meanings.

3 Findings
The study results reinforce the relevance of social networks, including (a lack of) professional parenting support, and gendered parental self-understandings in relation to barriers for parents with learning difficulties in Austria. Parents often experienced surveillance from child welfare professionals and referred to “being checked on” as well as receiving “the wrong support”. Only one study participant experienced the (flexible and self-determined) support provided to her family as helpful. Mothers and fathers with learning difficulties face, at times, quite different challenges in the parenting role. The findings highlight a maternal self-understanding as being primarily responsible for their child, while fathers often felt excluded from their child's life.

4 Conclusions
Support services need to acknowledge the relevance of gendered parenting roles and intersections of multidimensional disadvantages. The parenting support currently available to mothers and fathers with learning difficulties (if available at all) needs radical improvement and nationwide support structures need to be installed in collaboration with families.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalBritish Journal of Learning Disabilities
Early online date29 May 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 May 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. British Journal of Learning Disabilities published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Structured keywords

  • SPS Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies


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