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Keywords:

  • adolescence;
  • ecocultural theory;
  • intellectual disability;
  • parents;
  • qualitative research;
  • siblings

Background  The aim of this study was to explore parents’ experiences and strategies used when meeting the needs of all their children, including an adolescent with disabilities.

Materials and methods  A qualitative study design was employed. The study was conducted in two phases. (i) Secondary analysis of ecocultural interviews with 12 parent-carers of more than one child, including an adolescent (10–21 years) with intellectual disabilities. (ii) In-depth, semi-structured interviews with a sub-sample (n = 4) of parent-carers. Data was analysed using Strauss & Corbin’s (1998) constant comparative method.

Results  Parents balanced their children’s needs through a combination of strategies driven by their goals, beliefs and values. Parents found this very challenging. They were always conscious of the needs of all of their children, although they could not necessarily meet all their children’s needs equally. Strategies that attended to all children simultaneously were preferred by most parents, but could not always be used. Parents, at times, used strategies that prioritized the needs of the adolescent with disabilities or siblings.

Conclusions  Findings add to knowledge on what families of adolescents with disabilities do day to day and specifically reveal how these parents meet the needs of their children. Practitioners, together with disability and mainstream services and systems, need to recognize parents’ goals, beliefs and values and the needs of the adolescent with disabilities. This will effectively aid the adolescent with disabilities, their siblings, parents and the whole of family life.