Learning Disability

What is learning disability?

Learning disability is the current term for what is still often known as mental handicap. It implies a level of intelligence significantly below the normal range, with associated poor social skills.
In most cases, the condition is present from birth, although it is not always immediately recognised. In some cases, it results from illnesses or injuries suffered during childhood.
There are over 1 million people with some degree of learning disability, and perhaps 160,000 adults and children in England with severe learning disability.
The problem will not be identified by 7 (Intelligence Quotient) tests alone; but those with an IQ of less than 65 will usually be considered to have a learning disability.
Further broad distinctions are drawn between
SYMPTOMS

  • Inability to form abstract concepts.
  • Delay in reaching, or failure to reach, developmental milestones.
  • Failure to master simple skills.
  • Poor school performance.
  • Set thinking patterns.

A child development assessment involves the child attempting to perform certain tasks to reveal if their mental function is as expected for their age.
those with mild, moderate, severe and profound learning disability.

The more severe the learning disability, the greater the likelihood of additional physical disabilities.

What are the causes of learning disability?
Not all the causes of learning disability are known. Those that are range from: defects at cellular level (some inherited and some not); infections or health problems affecting the mother during pregnancy; accidents around the time of birth; or infections and accidents after birth.

Examples include:

  1. Down’s syndrome (a chromosomal disorder). Spina bifida with hydrocephalus (malformation of the spinal cord covering, with excess fluid within the skull).
  2. Brain damage due to lack of oxygen.
  3. German measles (rubella) in early pregnancy.
  4. Uncontrolled diabetes during the pregnancy.
  5. A large alcohol intake or heavy smoking during the pregnancy.
  6. Meningitis (inflammation of the membranes covering the brain).

How is learning disability identified?

With some, but not all, children, the signs are immediately apparent.

What can I do myself?
Taking the normal steps to to ensure a healthy pregnancy and good post-natal care reduces the chances of having a child with learning disability. If there is a family history of learning disability, seek genetic counselling.
baby, in hospital and at home, from birth through the early pre-school years, should enable any problems to be recognized.
It is not always easy for parents to recognize that something is not quite right, especially if this is a first child; but the mother is often the first person to identify the need for further investigation.
Sometimes, developmental milestones (such as learning to walk upright, speech, developing fine hand-eye co-ordination, and so on) are not reached at around the usual age because of problems with sight or hearing, and it is important to have all the possibilities checked out.

What help is available for learning disability?
Under the Education Acts, parents can ask for a full assessment (even before the age of two years) where there are problems which suggest that special help might be needed before school starts, and at school.
Learning disability as such cannot be treated, although associated health and other problems will
be, if possible. But all children with learning disability, no matter how severe, can be helped to develop by education and training, and not least by the loving care provided by their parents.
There are early intervention schemes which help parents achieve goals with their own child, aided by professional support.
For example, in the Portage system, a severely disabled child is assessed by a health care professional known as a portage worker. A series of simple developmental goals can then be set for the child.

helped to achieve.
Professionals will be anxious not to give early forecasts about how fast and how far children will develop, because very often development exceeds expectations, even if it is slow.
All children with learning disability have a right to education up to the age of 19 years, and beyond this there has to be consideration of their educational needs up to the age of 25.

Who can help with learning disability?
During the early years, the specialist health visitor and the family doctor are important allies; and they can bring in other professionals as needed. Seek their help if things do not seem to be going as you think they should.
Parents can be over anxious, but because they are closest to the child their observation and persistence are vitally important. Contact with other parents with special-needs children can be helpful, even though every child is different.
Where a number of professionals need to be involved, a visit to a child (paediatric) assessment clinic is probable.
It can be a little intimidating dealing with a group of professionals; but there are important points for parents to bear in mind: You should find out which professional is to be your main contact point.

Remember that, as the parent, you are there as an expert in your own right.

Take heart from the fact that the 1989 Children Act says, in effect, that the child comes first, and that the best way professionals can help the child is by helping the family.

What help is available for learning disability?
Under the Education Acts, parents can ask for a full assessment (even before the age of two years) where there are problems which suggest that special help might be needed before school starts, and at school.
Learning disability as such cannot be treated, although associated health and other problems will
be, if possible. But all children with learning disability, no matter how severe, can be helped to develop by education and training, and not least by the loving care provided by their parents.
There are early intervention schemes which help parents achieve goals with their own child, aided by professional support.
For example, in the Portage system, a severely disabled child is assessed by a health care professional known as a portage worker. A series of simple developmental goals can then be set for the child, which the parents will be helped to achieve.
Professionals will be anxious not to give early forecasts about how fast and how far children will develop, because very often development exceeds expectations, even if it is slow.
All children with learning disability have a right to education up to the age of 19 years, and beyond this there has to be consideration of their educational needs up to the age of 25.

Who can help with learning disability?
During the early years, the specialist health visitor and the family doctor are important allies; and they can bring in other professionals as needed. Seek their help if things do not seem to be going as you think they should.
Parents can be over anxious, but because they are closest to the child their observation and persistence are vitally important. Contact with other parents with special-needs children can be helpful, even though every child is different.
Where a number of professionals need to be involved, a visit to a child (paediatric) assessment clinic is probable.
It can be a little intimidating dealing with a group of professionals but take heart from the fact that the 1989 Children Act says, in effect, that the child comes first, and that the best way professionals can help the child is by helping the family.

FURTHER INFORMATION
Your local Social Services Department has information about services available and keeps a register of children with disabilities.
Information is also available from your local Mencap (Royal Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults) society, or contact:
Mencap National Centre, 123 Golden Lane London, EC1Y ORT. 071-4540454

tony
 

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