Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Families of disabled children must be provided with early years support, charity says

A new report is calling for commissioners to do more to ensure that children with learning disabilities get early support in the right place at the right time.

Currently, many families of disabled children struggle to access early years support and the services they need, this can mean that children’s and families’ difficulties get worse unnecessarily.

The report, Investing in early intervention, published by Cerebra, highlights the ways early intervention can benefit the health, wellbeing and quality of life of children with learning disabilities.

Intervening early can help people with learning disabilities to stay in the community

Early intervention can take different forms but ultimately, it helps to reduce the risk of poor outcomes by providing effective, tailored support to children with learning disabilities.

This may be by helping a child to learn key developmental skills (such as communication of their needs), directly helping to improve the wellbeing of the child’s family, or enrolling the child in programmes in early years education settings.

Early intervention therefore gives people with learning disabilities a better chance of staying out of inpatient facilities and residential schools and remaining in the community.

This not only has positive effects on the wellbeing of the individual, but can also lead to potential cost savings since residential settings tend to be very expensive. It also increases the societal economic contribution that can be made by families of disabled children.

“Learning about positive behavioural support utterly changed our lives”

Debbie Austin, who is mother to Lucy, a child with a severe learning disability, describes how early intervention has changed her families’ life.

She said: “We began to see behaviours that could be described as challenging when Lucy was two or three, but thanks to the skills and knowledge that I’ve been fortunate enough to learn, Lucy rarely needs to use these behaviours to communicate, and our lives have been transformed as a result.

“My early intervention experience, especially learning about positive behavioural support utterly changed our lives. It has enabled us to expand Lucy’s world in ways I could never have imagined were possible.”

A holistic approach

The report is now calling for health, education and social care to work together to deliver targeted early intervention support. It notes that effective local area leadership is key and encourages commissioners to use the positive examples provided in the report to inform future decisions.

To do this, the report says a strategic and multi-faceted approach must be adopted. This must include the whole family as this is the only way to provide solutions that holistically support the child, the family and their socio-economic context.

Four key areas of focus are identified. These are: 

  1. Empowering and equipping families to meet the needs of their child
  2. Investing in the wellbeing of family carers
  3. Workforce development
  4. Timely access to specialist support

Dame Christine Lenehan, Director of the Council for Disabled Children, said: “This report provides insights and examples that show the difference it can make and how we can change for the better.

“We need to use this report well to bring about the changes that we need, nationally and locally, to ensure children and young people secure better outcomes, realise their ambitions and live full lives with their family and in their community. There is no more important indicator of our national wellbeing and of our fundamental humanity.”

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