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Children with learning disabilities

Discuss how poverty might affect health, social well-being and family life during a child’s early years.

In the compilation of this essay the author has preserved the confidentiality of all service users and members of the general public that have been referred to.

A child’s early years of life could be said to be one of the most physiological, psychological and emotional susceptible stages of their development. It is at this stage that the effects of poverty on issues such as, health, social well-being, education, family life and housing conditions have an ever-lasting influence on the child. "Problems during childhood cast long shadows into adulthood" (Acheson 1999 p.34). The author will throughout the assignment touch on these issues, but in his estimation the effect these issues and particularly education, have on children with disabilities especially learning disabilities are the most under researched and under published and for this reason he will develop this initiative.

To give us some perspective we must first examine a connotation of poverty, a definition. "Persons are beset by poverty when ‘resources are so small as to exclude them from the minimum acceptable way of life of the Member State in which they live’" (Townsend 1979). Townsend’s definition implies to the reader that it is the members of the state, which define or sets the parameters of poverty, is it not they who set the ‘minimum acceptable way of life’? But what of the child, who sets the parameters for them or is it the circumstances that they are born into that, exemplifies their status?

So, what expectations do we have for our children? A good education for many parents is in all probability a priority. But evidence shows that for the poorest of the population this is not being attained. "Children who fail to benefit from schooling tend to come from families and communities characterised by poverty" (Mittler 1999 p. 3). If we could be in agreement regarding the group, which fall into ‘our’ definition, what help is available to them? ‘Sure Start’ is a government initiative aimed at selected areas of recognised underachievement and poverty with the proposal to prevent learning difficulties in the first place by focusing on children from birth to three. Commendable, but from the authors experience the awareness of this initiative for one particular family was a calendar posted through the door with a contact number and little else. The health visitor for this family did little in the way of explanation other than inform the family of a playgroup which was unattainable for their child due to lack of transport. Would the families involved like to be stigmatised as to living in a ‘Sure Start’ area, for are they not admitting to living in an area of poverty and disadvantage. This would conceivably inhibit them in seeking assistance, and have an adverse effect on their social well-being.

What of the families which fall in the ‘Sure Start’ confines where there is a child with a learning disability, or parents with a similar disability. Research carried out in Canada revealed that amongst families where maternal mental retardation and poverty are in attendance, the children suffered as a consequence not merely academically but psychologically and behaviourally. "There was no child in the group with maternal retardation who was completely free of problems. Close to 60% had IQs below 85, even those children who were of average intelligence met the criteria for either a behaviour disorder or a learning disability"(Feldman and Walton-Allen 1997 p.352). The author found very little in the way of support for this group however it could be argued that the provision of education for the majority far outweighs the minority. The present governments programme to redress inequalities in the education system for the highest underachievers and poorest of children thus far, in the authors opinion, has failed to ‘bear fruit’.

The health of a family is seriously affected by poverty and disability, including parental learning disability, which can manifest itself in numerous forms. Health care professionals must accept some criticism in this area, for it is these people who are crucial when difficulties materialize. The author has witnessed on many occasions the inability of GP’s, district nurses, social workers, community support workers etc. to communicate on a level of understanding for a person with a learning disability. Thus, important health education messages are long forgotten by learning disability parents even before the their child leaves the surgery or the ‘professional’ leaves the home. It should be said in support of the health care professionals that empowerment is of primary importance in their philosophy and advice acknowledged can be either implemented or ignored but hopefully whilst the child is under the canopy of the school medical services problems will be identified.

The cost of a healthy diet is a major consideration amongst low income affected families and even more so where there is a disability present. "A 1998 study showed that caring for a child with a severe disability costs an estimated £7,355 a year, at least three times that of bringing up a child without a disability" (Dobson B and Middleton S 1998). Children from this social group are often given a less healthy diet than their more affluent contemporaries due to the cost of the ‘healthier’ food items. There is considerable evidence that meals supplied by parents from low income families is not offered due to lack of knowledge of an healthier diet, but mainly due to cost and the consideration of wastage. "Disability creates extra needs: the need for extra ... special food .... These extra needs incur extra costs" (Blackburn 1991). The consequences of an inadequate diet can have severe affects on the growth and development of young children that in later life can be linked to coronary heart disease; this is proliferated for a child with Downs Syndrome, as congenital heart disease is a complication amongst suffers of this condition.

Shopping, considered by some as a pleasurable family experience, can become a nightmare for these families be it shopping for food or other essential items. "The additional costs of getting to the shops to buy food for families with disabilities only adds to the cost of the food" (Blackburn 1991). Young children accompanying parents on shopping trips demanding toys and sweets can put a substantial burden on the parents and also on an unyielding family budget. Considerable social and psychological pressure is also felt by the parents for not providing what could be seen as the ‘normal’ young child’s wants and demands leading to potential detrimental affects on the family unit. A mother, known to the author, for this reason will go shopping alone subsequently depriving the children of social interaction skills, budgeting experience etc., that they will require in later life. Could it be said that parents should educate their children into the understanding of the word ‘no’ consequently elevating the problem in the first place?

The locality and condition of housing in which children live has several affects on their health and education. Numerous children with learning disabilities will have to travel to school if they can not be accommodated into mainstream schools, which always should be the first option, resulting in an increased expense of time, endeavour and money. Barriers to mainstream education include, physical: lay out of buildings, location, attitudinal: concerning learning disabilities, curriculum and pedagogy and finally the individuals disabilities. Add poverty to the equation and the chance of mainstream education diminishes into oblivion for the learning disability child. Some support for this can be obtained from Glossop (1999 p. 35) when she writes, "Schools in deprived areas are more likely to have neglected buildings, fewer resources and unsafe playgrounds, increasing the risk of accidents". A dilapidated dwelling occupied by this section of society that is typically damp, inadequately insulated and in poor repair increases the health problems of the children living in such conditions. A learning disability child would need somewhere secure for fear of wandering and a physically disabled child will need space if confined to a wheelchair, these requisites are not generally met under these conditions.

Throughout this assignment the author has attempted to draw the readers attention to obstacles that the poverty afflicted disabled incur, for these obstacles never occur singularly. For the vast majority of people with any form disability their main source of income derives from benefits handed out by the government, this is neither satisfactory in monetary terms or in terms of self-esteem for the individual. Blackburn (1991) adds "Families of people with disabilities suffer a disproportionate risk of poverty". A deficiency of income is habitually accompanied by poor housing, an unhealthy diet and a lack of educational opportunities. A possible escape from this environment for the disabled is education leading to meaningful employment. A young service user known to the author has taken such a course of action and returned benefits to embark on a career in a fast food outlet, in no way the definitive answer (the author is not offering it as one) but education and support from family at an early age has directed this service user into a position of optimism.

Word count - 1,481

Reference List

Acheson, D. (1999) Blighted Childhoods. In Glossop C Nursing Times 95:45 34-35.

Blackburn, C. (1991) Poverty and Health: Working with Families, Bury St Edmonds, Open University Press.

Dobson, B. and Middleton, S. (1998) Paying to Care: The cost of childhood disability, York, York Publishing Services.

Feldman, M.A. and Walton-Allen, N. (1997) "Effects of Maternal Mental Retardation and Poverty on Intellectual, Academic, and Behavioural Status of School-Age Children", American Journal on Mental Retardation, Vol. 101, No 4, pp 352-364.

Glossop, C. (1999) "Blighted Childhoods", Nursing Times, Vol. 95, No 41, pp 34-35.

Mittler, P. (1999) "Equal opportunities - for whom", British Journal of Special Education, Vol. 26, no. 1, pp 3-7.

Townsend, P. (1979) Poverty in the United Kingdom, Harmondsworth, Penguin.

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