Children with learning disabilities can achieve anything, if only government would support them


Until I was 10, I was thought of as ‘naughty’ or ‘lazy’ by teachers in my mainstream school (Picture: Mencap)

I know the difference it makes to have the right support when you’re a child with a learning disability.

That’s why, today, I am proud to stand in solidarity with the families who are making a legal challenge against the government over its cuts to the special educational needs disability (SEND) system.

Until I was 10, I was thought of as ‘naughty’ or ‘lazy’ by teachers in my mainstream school, because I struggled to keep up and couldn’t understand the lessons, especially the complex maths equations. I was also bullied by my peers for being different and my teachers didn’t challenge them about their attitudes – it made me miserable.

There was funding available for special educational needs support, meaning my parents were offered three schools before deciding which one was the best option for me.

But it wasn’t a straightforward process. They had to fight to get my learning disability diagnosed and when they finally got an educational psychologist on the case, I was nearly at crisis point. The diagnosis took almost two years for them to complete.

(Picture: Mencap)

At my special educational needs school I boarded during the week and went home at the weekends. Although I didn’t like it at first – being away from home was so tough, not just on me but on my whole family – I soon settled in, and my life was transformed.

For the first time ever, I was enjoying learning.

The class sizes were small, we had a teacher with learning disability awareness leading the class and there were specialist learning disability teaching assistants supporting us too.

I made friends with people like me, and I also got to take part in extra-curricular activities like swimming, knitting (although I wasn’t very good at it) and life skills, such as money management.

I was proud to graduate with five GSCEs – all in subjects that I’d struggled with in my mainstream school where I wasn’t getting the support I needed.

I’m now happily married with a successful career, but I dread to think what would have happened if the support hadn’t been there – who knows where I’d be now?

One thing I know for certain is that I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

A learning disability is not a mental illness or a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia. It is a reduced intellectual ability, which means you need longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills. And it’s for life, you don’t grow out of it.

Every child with a learning disability will need some specialist educational support at some point, however SEND currently lacks the proper funding required to meet every child’s needs.

According to new research by the National Education Union, up to 8,500 children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities are currently ‘awaiting provision’ for a school place. In other words, they are being left out of the education system.

This is unacceptable, but also really harmful to their development and doesn’t help them learn for the future.

Alongside Mencap, the UK’s charity for people with learning disabilities, I urge the government to properly fund SEND so that every child, whether they have a disability or not, can have the best possible start in life.

Children with learning disabilities have to work twice as hard as anybody else to get to where they want to be.

It is negative attitudes and not being able to access the support which is stopping them from achieving what they are truly capable of.

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