Reviewed by Ciara Maye, Child Behaviour Therapist, Brothers of Charity Roscommon Services


This book is like a gust of wind through the literature involving parents of children with special needs. As Christopher Gillberg, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, says in his introduction to the book: ‘it should be required reading for all involved in supporting families who struggle with a lifelong disability.’ In her research between 2001 and 2004, Anna Karin Kingston interviewed 18 mothers about their experience of parenting children with autism, ADHD or Down Syndrome. The mothers’ voices are powerfully exposed in the book, speaking with an openness which was no doubt facilitated by Kingston herself, who is the mother of a teenager with complex needs.

Chapter One provides an introduction to the text. Chapter Two: ‘The challenge of maternal voices’, discusses the existing literature on mothers and summarises the policies and legislation on disability in Ireland. The mothers’ constant fighting for services, their relationships with professionals and service providers and the themes of grief, stress and coping are discussed in Chapter Three (Maternal Coping). ‘Maternal work and employment’ considers the work involved in mothering a child with special needs and how this impacts on the mothers’ personal and work-related choices and opportunities. The point is made that while fathers can take the maternal role in the family, it is mainly mothers who carry out maternal work. Mothers’ relationships with fathers, extended families, the public and Catholicism are explored in Chapter Five. Of particular interest is Kingston’s analysis of what society tells us is a ‘good mother’, versus the idea of a ‘bad mother’. The final chapter draws together the various themes, exploring different ways how mothers of children with learning disabilities may be supported and empowered.

Mothering special needs will strike a chord with many parents and advocates. Ultimately it argues that mothers should be supported to voice their own needs, as well as those of their family, as opposed to silencing these needs in their maternal work for the child with learning disability. For service providers and professionals the book will prove an uncomfortable read. The unsatisfactory nature of service provision is a recurrent theme in the mothers’ stories. Their sense of struggle and battle to have their children’s needs met is enough to burst any bubble of professional confidence or pride. Accounts of both good and bad professional practice are given and the lack of a coordinated efficient service is apparent. As a Swedish journalist living in Ireland since 1989, Kingston provides an interesting perspective on the cultural context, history and evolution of Irish service provision. The qualitative research approach allows her passionate and political voice to come through strongly in this feminist work which can be read at many levels. Some readers will find the mothers’ stories enlightening in themselves; others interested in a substantial academic discussion will go into more depth. The book is both an emotive and enlightening book and, indeed, it should be required reading for those interesting in improving service quality.

Anna Karin Kingston has a PhD in Social Sciences and is currently a member of the MA in Women’s Studies teaching board at University College Cork. She is one of the founder members of the Association for Research on Mothering – Ireland (ARMI), Department of Applied Social Studies, UCC. The book is available via the Jessica Kingsley Publishers website at

MOTHERING SPECIAL NEEDS: A different maternal journey, by Anna Karin Kingston. (2007), Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London. ISBN 798 1 84319 543 5.


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