Factors influencing the outcomes for children in families headed by parents with intellectual disabilities (2009-2013)

Project team

Gabrielle Hindmarsh
Prof Gwynnyth Llewellyn
Prof Eric Emerson


Very little is known about the children of parents with intellectual disabilities, including the factors influencing child outcomes. The few comparative, cross sectional studies have shown children of parents with intellectual disabilities have poorer birth outcomes, language and cognitive delays, behavioural and social-emotional problems, psychological difficulties, and face isolation (eg. Feldman & Walton-Allen, 1997; Keltner, Wise & Taylor, 1999; Perkins et al 2002). In addition there are a small number of qualitative studies which address children’s experiences from their perspective. These few qualitative studies have reported children demonstrated considerable adaptability in managing and coping with lives filled with difficulty, and how the children turned out depended on not only their parents, but others involved in their lives (eg. siblings, peers, teachers, friends), and the context of their lives (Booth & Booth, 2000; Ronai, 1997). The difficult life situations experienced by their parents and their context of their own upbringing suggests that more than intra personal factors are involved in influencing outcomes in childhood and on into adolescence.


The most rigorous design to understand the outcomes for children of parents with intellectual disabilities and the factors which influence these outcomes at intrapersonal, interpersonal, social and contextual levels is to explore these variables in large random or representative samples of children and young people. The proposed research project plans to systematically explore the factors influencing outcomes for children of parents with intellectual disabilities by utilising existing accessible population databases eg. the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children; Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia; Millennium Cohort Study (United Kingdom).

Related publications

Booth ,T., & Booth, W. (2000). Against the odds: Growing up with parents who have learning difficulties. Mental Retardation, 38, 1-14.

Feldman, M., & Walton-Allen, N. (1997). Effects of maternal mental retardation and poverty on intellectual, academic, and behavioral status of school-age children. American Journal on Mental Retardation 101, 352–364.

Keltner, B., Wise, L., & Taylor, G. (1999). Mothers with intellectual limitations and their 2-year-old children’s developmental outcomes. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 24, 45–57.

Llewellyn, G. (1995). Relationships and social support: Views of parents with mental retardation/intellectual disability. Mental Retardation, 33(6), 349-363.

Perkins, T., Holburn, S., Deaux, K., Flory, M., & Vietze, P. (2002). Children of mothers with intellectual disability: Stigma, mother-child relationship and self-esteem. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 15, 297-313.

Ronai, C. (1997). On loving and hating my mentally retarded mother. Mental Retardation, 35, 417-432.