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Children with special needs

Some questions you may like to ask

You may find it helpful to write these down.

  • Is there a name for my child’s problem? If so, what is it?
  • Are more tests needed to get a clear diagnosis or confirm what’s been found out?
  • Is it likely to get better or likely to get worse, or will it stay roughly the same?
  • Where is the best place to go for medical help?
  • Where is the best place to go for practical help?
  • How can I get in touch with other parents who have children with a similar problem?
  • How can I find out how best to help my child?

Coping with your feelings

At whatever stage in your child’s life you receive a diagnosis of disability or illness, you’ll have difficult feelings to cope with, and some hard decisions and adjustments to make. Your GP, health visitor, social worker or counsellors of various kinds may all be able to help. So may other parents who’ve been through similar experiences. But, even with help, all parents say it takes time.

Throughout that time, and afterwards, it’s right to think about your own life and needs as well as your child’s.

Child development centres

In some areas, teams of professionals (doctors, therapists, health visitors, social workers), usually working from what is known as a child development centre, are available to help support children with special needs and their families. You can be referred to such a team through your GP or health visitor.

Voluntary organisations

You can also get information, advice and support from organisations dealing with particular disabilities, illnesses and other problems. Through them, you can often contact other parents in situations like your own. See useful organisations for the names and addresses of some organisations that might be able to help.

Specialist help

There are many services available to help children who have special needs to learn and develop, for example, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, home learning schemes, playgroups, opportunity groups, nurseries and nursery schools and classes. To find out what’s available in your area, ask your health visitor, GP, social services department or the educational adviser for special needs at your local education department. See your services for more information about the services, including information about regional variations.

Special needs assessment

Local education authorities who think a child over two years old may have special educational needs must make an assessment of his or her needs. For a child under two an assessment must be made if a parent asks for it. This assessment is a way of getting advice about your child’s educational needs.

You can take part in the assessment yourself. The Advisory Centre for Education (see useful organisations) offers advice on education and produces a handbook on the subject.

Benefits advice

For information about social security benefits for children with special needs, see Your rights and benefits.


We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.