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Parents’ experiences of parenting a child with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities in France: A qualitative study

Aim MA, Rousseau MC, Hamouda I, Anzola AB, de Villemeur TB, Milh M, Maincent K, Lind K, Auquier P, Baumstarck K, Dany L.

Parents’ experiences of parenting a child with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities in France: A qualitative study. Health Expect. 2023 Nov 6;27(1):e13910. doi: 10.1111/hex.13910. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37932892; PMCID: PMC10757136.


Introduction: Parents of persons with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities (PIMD) play a major and often lifelong role in the care and support of their child. A better understanding of parents’ perspectives regarding their experiences of parenting their child with PIMD is essential to support them more effectively. Although this topic has been explored extensively in Anglo-Saxon and Northern European countries, little is known about the experience of these parents in a highly institutionalized context such as that in France.

Objective: We explored parents’ experiences of the activities they performed to care for their child with PIMD (namely, the ‘parenting work’) in the French context.

Method: Qualitative semistructured interviews were conducted by telephone with 34 parents of persons with PIMD aged 8-35. The resulting data were analyzed using thematic analysis.

Results: The analysis highlighted the diversity of activities performed by parents as well as the influence of context on the forms of this parenting work. Five themes were developed: (1) navigating the challenges of obtaining medical recognition; (2) negotiating a concealed domain and becoming an expert; (3) unfolding medical and medicosocial care management; (4) navigating the challenges of daily living and (5) shaping one’s child’s possibilities.

Conclusion: This study offers a better understanding of the challenges, levers and expectations of parents of children with PIMD in France. Contextual factors such as the lack of knowledge of PIMD among health professionals, access to knowledge and know-how associated with care management, the administrative complexity of access to care and equipment, institutional issues (e.g., professional turnover) and societal ableism (e.g., access to infrastructures, interpersonal discrimination) shape the work parents perform to support their child’s needs. It is necessary to consider contextual aspects to better support these parents and their children. Suggestions for applications are provided in the discussion.

Patient or public contribution: One of the researchers, a parent of a child with PIMD, supported the research design and provided feedback on the study’s procedures and manuscript.

Keywords: care trajectory; parent; parenting work; polyhandicap; qualitative method; severe profound intellectual and multiple disabilities.