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Physical disability is defined as a “limitation on a person’s physical functioning, mobility, dexterity or stamina” that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on an individual’s  ability to do normal daily activities. (Equality Act,2010).  However, the effects of physical disability on a persons experience of life and learning varies even for children with the same diagnosis or condition.

For some the influence of their physical impairment may be mild, whilst for others, the effect  may be profound impacting on every aspect of development. For others, their disability may be hidden, such as arthritis, or very evident necessitating a range of individual equipment and assistance from others.  Others may have degenerative conditions or their symptoms may fluctuate across the day.  Some children and young people will have additional difficulties which could include visual or hearing impairment, autistic spectrum conditions, epilepsy or additional medical, communication or learning needs.

Every child or young person with physical disability is unique, but their physical needs are generally likely to come from:

• physical, metabolic or neurological causes, e.g. Cerebral palsy or achondroplasia
• degenerative conditions, e.g. Duchenne muscular dystrophy
• severe trauma, e.g. as a result of an accident, amputation or serious illness
• chromosomal disorder, e.g. Turner syndrome, TUBB4A or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
• acquired brain injury (ABI)
• muscular skeletal conditions
• birth trauma and prematurity
• upper limb differences affecting hand function and fine motor movement
• lower limb differences affecting mobility
• complex medical needs which impact on physical function
• persistent symptoms affecting mobility and physical function, although there is no diagnosis

Whilst every individual is affected by their unique physical needs in a different way children and young people with a physical disability may often have difficulty in:

• accessing the physical environment
• using equipment and facilities safely
• taking part in learning tasks and assessments
• doing practical tasks and activities, e.g. food technology
• recording ideas and thoughts legibly or to time
• achieving independent work
• developing self-care skills
• communicating with others
• managing fatigue and pain
• interacting socially
• processing and regulating sensory information
• developing positive social emotional mental health (SEMH) & wellbeing

However, with the right support, knowledge and understanding coupled with high expectations and careful planning and a CAN DO attitude children and young people with physical needs can achieve the same as their peers.

“It will always be a challenge to meet the expectations of parents and the needs of all children and young people, especially in a context of constrained resources. The barriers faced by some children are very significant, and it requires skill and sensitivity from professionals working together to overcome them. However, there is a need for a continuing focus on and the highest expectations for disabled children and young people and those with special educational needs.”

Special Educational Needs and Disability Review: A Statement is Not Enough, Ofsted, 2010