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Intellectual Disability (ID) is a condition characterised by limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive behaviour. This condition can have a significant impact on families, and one can be forgiven for thinking that this impact would mostly be negative.

However, there is much to show that a member of a family who brings the problem of ID to the mix of family interactions can actually also be a positive element and motivating factor. Families often find incredibly uplifting aspects to the process of caring for and supporting a family member who is not able to find their way independently in life.

The negative toll on families.

  • There’s no arguing that intellectual disability can be a source of stress and emotional strain on a family. Parents or caregivers may feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for someone with ID, and may experience feelings of guilt, shame, and isolation. This is especially true if the disability is severe, and requires significant support and assistance with daily living activities.
  • The financial burden of caring for someone with ID can also be significant, as medical expenses and specialised services can be expensive. And the added burden is relentless because the condition follows through from childhood to adulthood. These expenses can break families, relationships and marriages.
  • In addition, families may face discrimination and stigmatisation due to their association with someone with an intellectual disability. This can lead to some levels of social exclusion. Also, children and young people will perhaps need someone with them all the time, which means various family members may have to give up outings and events in order to shoulder the responsibility and remain with the individual with ID. These duties can be shared, but some family members may find them irksome.
  • Families may also struggle with the fact that sometimes their child or sibling may be marginalised from their community, and prevented from taking up a useful place in the working world. As a result, families may themselves experience a lack of social support and reduced opportunities for personal growth and development.

But then we must consider the surprising positivity…

In today’s world where there is far more help and care available both for the intellectually disabled person as well as the family, we are beating the drum for those families who faithfully and determinedly nurture and support the ID member in their midst for whom they are responsible.

  • Although the stress of parenting a child with ID is undeniable, it is always important to emphasize the positive aspects that the ID child can bring to the families. Parents may experience a greater appreciation of life, and increased personal strength and confidence. Changed priorities in life mean a less materialistic approach and the ability to build more meaningful relationships.
  • The development of positive and adaptive coping mechanisms in turn helps to handle the raising of their child more successfully. Parents who are able to make strides to adjust often eventually find much joy and happiness and love to be shared with their child. This positive approach is seen as vitally important in helping parents to improve their general health and mental wellbeing.
  • Many families report that they feel a greater sense of resilience, empathy, and compassion. Families who care for someone with ID may develop a deep understanding of the importance of inclusion and diversity, and may become advocates for disability rights and equality. They may also develop a strong sense of community with other families in similar situations, which can provide a network of social support and solidarity.
  • There is no doubt that caring for someone with ID can act as a catalyst for personal growth and fulfilment. It can provide a stimulating sense of purpose and meaning. Families can also experience pride and satisfaction as they successfully provide care and support to someone with ID, while at the same time developing a deep and meaningful relationship with their loved one.

For the wider community and the public at large, it’s important to recognise and support families who care for someone with ID, and to continue to promote greater inclusion and equality for people with disabilities. By doing so, we create a more compassionate, caring and supportive society for all.

The story of Sunfield Home

Chris and Lynne Bennett, parents of a young girl with Down Syndrome, pursued their dream of establishing a home for their daughter and other intellectually disabled young adults in the Western Cape. Together with other parents, they founded the Sunfield Home in Wellington, providing a loving and nurturing environment for over 100 residents and day-care adult individuals.

Each individual is screened to evaluate their strengths and allocate activities according to their abilities. A protective workshop has been established where contract work is undertaken, as well as arts and crafts activities. An employment scheme has also been developed and as a result permanent and successful positions have been found within the surrounding wine and cheese industries.

Find out more about us at: www.sunfieldhome.co.za