Disability can take many forms and is a serious risk factor when it comes to child development. A disabled child be it physical or learning is likely to have less opportunities in life than a child who is not disabled, restricting the choices of job, and life experiences. A child may be faced with prejudice and discrimination, maybe bullied and teased by peers and this will affect confidence. Children with learning and physical disorders may become frustrated and uncooperative at home as well as at school. The American Academy of Child Psychiatry points out that these children “may develop low self-esteem and resort to misbehaving as they would rather their teacher and peers see them as having a behaviour problem rather than being unintelligent”. Having a disability does not mean a child is not intelligent and we need to be careful making assumptions along these lines.
Physical disabilities may affect how a child plays and its ability to use play as a way of learning and gaining new skills and concepts depending on how the disability restricts movement. They may have difficulty manipulating materials in a constructive or meaningful way. Certain conditions, such as cerebral palsy, may also restrict the use of speech, movement and co-ordination. A child/young person with this disability may only be affected physically with this disability while others could be affected by seizures, epilepsy or difficulties with speech and language.
Some children with a mobility disability become fatigued easily or may have pain that is controlled with medication, which could also cause negative side effects. Those whose arms and or hands are affected can experience difficulties with opening doors, reaching for and/or carrying books, writing, using equipment etc. Many children with manual dexterity difficulties can benefit from ergonomic adaptations to equipment and assistive technology but some schools simply do not have these facilities which can seriously disadvantage them in the classroom and at play.
Dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, aphasia and dysphasia are common learning disabilities that can affect memory, the ability to read and write and do sums and also make it hard to concentrate. Personality conditions such as Autism and Asperger’s syndrome may also make it difficult for the child to integrate into a school environment, they may have trouble recognising social cues and struggle in social situations. Children with processing disorders find it difficult to interpret the information their senses receive and this makes planning and organising tasks very difficult. In addition to the academic struggles the child will face, the social and emotional effects will also play a part in developmental delays.
Children with communication difficulties are often thought to be far less able than they really are. It is important to check personal responses to ensure there are no automatic assumptions being made concerning a child’s intelligence and ability if their speech is very slow or slurred as their potential can go unrecognised. This of course can place them at a serious disadvantage.
The school/parents/carers and outside agencies such as SENCO should work together to ensure that a child with a disability is given full support and activities and tasks should be adapted to their abilities. Receiving the best support early on will minimise development delays giving the child the best chance to reach its potential.