Engaging Parents with Disabilities and Learning Differences

Parents with Disabilities and Learning Differences

Parents with disabilities and learning differences come from every background, culture, language, and community. In this resource, parent and family refer to all adult caregivers who interact with early childhood systems in support of their child. These caregivers include biological, adoptive, and foster parents, expectant families, out-of-household parents, grandparents, legal and informal guardians, adult siblings, and other family members.

Parents with Disabilities

Some parents of children enrolled in Head Start programs have disabilities. One definition of disability is a “condition of the body or mind … that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities … and interact with the world around them.”

Fast Facts About Disabilities

Parents with Learning Differences

Parents may have learning differences that affect how they engage with Head Start programs and services. Learning differences may be caused by intellectual or developmental disabilities, traumatic brain injury, health issues, or other reasons.

Learning differences may affect the following skills:

  • Comprehension
  • Memory
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Reading or math literacy
  • Adaptive skills or problems in daily living, including self-care, child care, literacy, number and conceptual skills, social skills, or other practical skills

While some parents may have a diagnosed disability, many learning differences go undiagnosed. You may not know if a parent has a learning difference. Check out the Home Visiting Toolkit for additional information and resources to support parents with learning differences.

Inclusive Language

Some people talk openly about their disability or learning difference, while others do not. The ways that people talk about their disability or learning difference may also vary. For example, some people prefer to use person-first language when talking about their disability, while others prefer identify-first language. If a parent shares that they have a disability with you, notice what language they use to describe it. If you are unsure of how to talk about their disability, ask them.

Person-first LanguageIdentity-first Language
Parent with disabilitiesDisabled parent
Mother with a hearing impairmentDeaf mother
Person with dyslexiaDyslexic person

Neurodiversity refers to the varied ways people experience and interact with the world around them. While neurodiversity can have different meanings, it usually includes neurological differences like autism, ADHD, and dyslexia. Terms like neurodiverse and neurodivergent emphasize that these differences are ways of being rather than problems or deficits.

The ways people think about and discuss their disability may also be related to their culture. Keep in mind that some people may think differently about disability than others in their culture. This resource uses both person-first and identity-first language to include the varied ways disabled people describe themselves.