In just five years the number of children with disabilities has risen by 20% to 900,000. The number of children with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD), aged 10-14yrs, has also increased; at three times that rate! Of the UK’s population 20% of children and adults live with a disability, 7% of which are diagnosed with PMLD. The facts are staggering but it’s the awareness of them that is profound. Cultural acceptance has long been the failing transmitter but it’s time the airwaves were open and social change inspired; the needs and voice of our nation living with disabilities must be heard!
For children – of all abilities – there are defined pathways with milestones set in development, education and care. The concerns and outcomes therefore are clearer cut… or are they? Individual programmes for children are charted with official monitoring and governance on practice. However the truth is that cultural judgements and social barriers are a major influence in the standards and delivery – especially in the case of children with additional needs.
Today’s economic climate poses a further challenge with Local Authority funding being at a low and mainstream options being preferred. Children with physical and learning disabilities need extra support though only 8% of families get services from their local social services. It is critical therefore that support is available both professionally and within peer groups as many families reach out for help.
The challenges are compelling in childhood but the greater focus placed on opportunities and the development needs of children does ensure a greater level of commitment to outcomes. The most serious issue however is the social neglect of adults with disabilities. As children transition to adulthood, funding and care protocols dramatically change. This leaves many in the traumatic position of navigating what is – for all young adults – a naturally difficult time, without the stability of vital care and support.
The next steps of further education and employment become areas of uncertainty, facts clearly underlined by the national figures: Just over 1/3 of adults living with disabilities are in further education – 14% of whom have PMLD – but it is reported that a quarter of people living with disabilities have no qualifications compared with the national figure of 9%. Of the working population over 6.9million live with a physical or learning disability, with only one in ten adults with learning disabilities being in full or part-time employment.
The figures will only increase; most notably 14-20% for adults with learning disabilities within the next decade. The issue, therefore, will only become more pronounced; the effects and solution requiring immediate social change!
We all know that freedom of speech is a human right. For one group of people it’s not just the daily challenges they face that stand in the way of this basic right. The average 18 month old child has been exposed to 4,380 hours of oral language at a rate of 8 hours a day from birth. A child who uses a communication system and receives speech and language therapy twice a week (for 20 – 30 minutes) will reach the same amount of language exposure in 84 years as quoted J Korsten. Of course this is a shocking statistic, but what is more worrying is the postcode lottery that dictates if people living with such challenges are eligible for a communication aid, or more poignantly, the funding of.
Alternativative and Augmentatative Communication (AAC) is a hot topic in the UK following a 2011 campaign by lead charity, The Communications Trust. Children, and for that matter adults, with AAC needs have to tread a minefield of political and funding barriers, as a result of the pathways being vague to non-existent. A fact reflected in local authority budgets which make limited to no provision – a point highlighted by a recent Scope research report, that found health and education services passing the buck between one another on funding for AAC technology. It also discovered that even when there is funding, some educational services shockingly restrict usage, removing devices outside of term time!