In the UK there are approximately 80,000 disabled children under the age of 16. This is about one in every 20. However, it’s difficult to get an accurate picture because historical data is thin on the ground. What data is available shows an increase in disability among children and adolescents over the past 30 years.
Learning disabilities are the most common disabilities affecting UK children. In many cases, a different impairment indirectly affects learning, for example, blindness. Almost half of blind or partially sighted children have additional disabilities and special educational needs. In 2013, statistics published by Papworth Trust indicated that 410,000 children up to 19 years of age have a learning disability. More boys than girls have learning disabilities, especially in the 0 to 7 years old age-group.
Other common disabilities affecting children include memory, communication, concentration, mobility and social cues, including the ability to recognise when they’re in danger.
According to Papworth study on disability in the UK, more work is needed to make the general public more aware of the extent and needs of disabled people. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 UK citizens are affected directly and far more indirectly by disability. There have been significant changes in attitude and policies regarding disability. However, we’re still falling short when it comes to the practical implementation of solutions.
Another problem is that not many people fully understand what constitutes a disability. The Disability Discrimination Act defines disability in children as “a limiting long-standing illness (12 months and more), disability or infirmity, experiencing significant difficulties or health problems including those who have such difficulties when not on medication”.
We’ve already said that the incidence of disability in children is rising. There are several potential contributing factors, including medical advances that make it easier to identify disabilities. Improved social services also provide enough support for families to nurture infants with disabilities, allowing them to live beyond original estimations of life expectancy. Finally, improved general awareness encourages people to get help for and report disabilities in the family.
However, only 8% of families take advantage of financial support from social services. This is problematic because it costs up to three times as much to raise a child with a disability as an able-bodied child. Statistics show that 60% of children and young people with learning disabilities and mental ill health live in poverty. Disabilities that affect mental and physical functioning compound the problems as the need for assistance increases exponentially. This is because children often need special motorised wheelchairs with equipment that helps them communicate and even steer.
More about learning disabilities
According to stats gleaned from Special Education Needs (SEN) assessments, approximately 200,000 children are at the School Action Plus stage. To start off with, what is School Action (SA)?
School Action includes steps to help children who can’t progress at school. Children benefit from extra teachers and different learning materials and equipment. Problems hampering progress include difficulties in core areas, persistent emotional and behavioural difficulties, and sensory and physical problems. Targeted teaching is not enough to help children overcome their learning difficulties.
School Action Plus includes more advanced methods to help children with more severe learning disabilities. In this case, external assistance comes from the LEA’s (local education authority’s) support services, local Health Authority, or Social Services. Assistance includes speech and language therapy and occupational therapy. Schools also consult specialists in autism and children’s’ behavioural needs. School Action Plus involves more detailed planning and more complex interventions.
So, quite a high number of UK children have very special educational needs. In fact, four out of five children have a moderate learning difficulty and one in twenty have profound multiple learning difficulties.
In addition statistics show that children from disadvantaged or compromised environments are more likely to have a learning disability. Some example, children in semi-itinerant cultures, like gypsies and Romani, tend to have moderate and severe learning difficulties.
Making life easier
Communication is one of the biggest problems children with learning disabilities and severe conditions that affect physical ability face. To facilitate communication, the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust (ELHT), NHS Blackburn with Darwen, and NHS East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) developed a Health and Wellbeing passport.
The passport is in a booklet form and contains vital information in a colourful and informative style. Information includes the child’s likes and dislikes (dislikes hugs, will hold hands), preferred method of communication, and how to reassure them. It also contains their clinical records and medical information, including medication and allergies.
Essentially, the passport helps medical personnel and non-medical people understand the child’s complex needs, so they can provide appropriate support through stressful circumstances.