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The causes of disabilities and health problems
A girl uses a head movement control
                  system with her teacher

There are many reasons why children are born with disabilities and/or health needs.


These can include:

  • Difficulties during the pregnancy, including infections in the mother.
  • Prematurity.
  • Environmental problems.
  • Genetic disorders.
  • Asphyxia, a lack of oxygen, or trauma during or shortly after birth.

(Early Support 2010)

Delayed and disordered development

Children's difficulties and disabilities will disrupt their
development, which could be:


Delayed – The child will reach developmental milestones in the same order as typically developing children, but their progress is significantly slower than expected in one or more areas of development.




Disordered – The order of a child's developmental progress in one or more developmental areas differs from that of typically developing children. The child will gain developmental skills with the support of specialised teaching, and/or adapted environment or resources.

Children and young people with severe, profound or complex learning difficulties will experience disordered development. Refer to this document for the meaning of these terms.


Definition of difficulties

Supporting development

Children and young people with severe, profound or complex learning difficulties will usually need support from a number of specialist professionals to support their development and help them to achieve key skills.


Early Support provide materials for a range of disabilities. Their developmental journal supports recording of developmental progress.


Developmental journal

Examples of conditions
A girl uses a communication device
                  with her teacher

Read the information about three disorders which can result in severe, profound or complex learning disabilities:

  • Angelman Syndrome – a rare chromosome disorder;
  • Fragile X Syndrome – the most common inherited cause of learning disability;
  • Phenylketonuria (PKU) – newborn babies are screened for PKU at birth, and can be treated if
    identified early.
Fragile X Syndrome

Different kinds of difficulty have a different impact on children's development. Many children with severe and profound learning difficulties are identified at birth, although for some (eg autism) difficulties are noticed later.


Fragile X Syndrome is the most common inherited cause of learning disability. The difficulties of a child with Fragile X Syndrome, whose facial differences only become apparent with age, may not be identified until developmental milestones are missed and other issues identified.

For example:

  • Language and communication delays.
  • Social delays.
  • Autistic behaviours and attention difficulties.
  • Behavioural issues.
The expertise of the family

Families are the child's first teacher. Their expertise needs to be recognised and used in developing educational and therapy programmes for their child. They have in-depth knowledge and experiences of their child's abilities, strengths and needs.


Listen to these parents talk about experiences of disability in their families.





Note down what these parents say is important to them and their family, and the support they and their child needs.

Find out more
opened book


Early Support (2010) Information for Parents: When your child has no diagnosis. London: Early Support.