ESRI Publishes New Research on Parental Expectations of Children with Disabilities

Today, 12 May 2016, the ESRI published Parental Educational Expectations of Children with Disabilities. The report, commissioned by the National Disability Authority, used data from the Growing Up in Ireland study to investigate the extent to which the educational outcomes of children with disabilities, which are poorer than their peers, are influenced by the expectations of their parents.

The study used a broad classification of disability and distinguished between four types:

  • general learning/intellectual disability
  • specific learning disability (including dyslexia or dyspraxia)
  • socio-emotional or behavioural disability
  • physical disability (including disabilities affecting mobility, vision or hearing).

Factors influencing parental expectations
The study examined how far parents expected their children to progress in full-time education, given that previous research found that low expectations have an impact on a child’s academic development, the extent to which they like school and their self-concept. The study published today found that parental expectations for children with disabilities, particularly general learning/intellectual disabilities and specific learning and emotional/behavioural disabilities, are lower than parental expectations for children without disabilities.

The report found that, in some cases, parental expectations were lower than might be expected based on the actual academic achievement of the child but noted that such expectations could be influenced by other factors not measured in this study, including a child’s interest in a subject or difficulties with parts of the curriculum.

The research found that the following factors influenced the educational expectations parents had for children with disabilities:

Child's academic development:
As might be expected, parents of children who scored in the lowest 20 per cent in reading and mathematics tests were more likely to have lower expectations for their child compared to parents of children in the top 20 per cent.

Parents of girls were more likely to expect their child to attain higher educational qualifications than parents of boys.

Educational attainment of the parents:
Parents with a Leaving Certificate (or lower) were more likely to have lower expectations for their children than parents with a degree.

Parent-child relationship:
Parents who reported high levels of conflict with their child had lower educational expectations.

Supporting parents of children with disabilities

The report points to a range of measures that might be implemented to support parents and maximise the potential of young people with disabilities, including the following:

  • Provide parents and children with information and guidance about the opportunities available in further and higher education
  • Enable regular feedback and support from schools to parents so that progress and challenges can be fully understood and supported
  • Give opportunities to children who have difficulties with school work to excel in other ways
  • Promote positive role models of people with disabilities living full and satisfying lives
  • Provide targeted supports for children with disabilities from socio-economically disadvantaged families.

Dr. Selina McCoy, an author of the report, commented “Key to promoting equality of opportunity among young people with disabilities is providing their parents with additional support, including information and guidance that promotes education and employment as real options after school.”

Helen Guinan, Chairperson of the National Disability Authority, welcomed the report and stated "This important piece of work will feed into key goals of the Government's Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities. The Strategy aims to promote employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and in relation to children with disabilities, ensuring that career planning is supported from the earliest opportunity while they are at school.  Positive expectations have a key role to play in making this a reality and in enhancing education performance."