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Early Developmental Impairment / Learning Disability

Early Developmental Impairment

Early developmental impairment is the term used when all areas of a young child’s development are delayed. This is also known as global developmental delay. With time, some children will show some catch up, but for many, although they will continue to make developmental progress, the gap between themselves and other children of the same age will widen over time. By the age of 5 years, a developmental delay is more likely to be described as a long term learning difficulty/disability or intellectual disability (these terms are sometimes used interchangeably). Your child may need some additional support in school or even an Education Health Care Plan.

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What is an Intellectual Disability?

An intellectual disability is also known as a learning disability. It is a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities, which significantly affects someone’s life long-term. People with a learning disability tend to take longer to learn and may need support to develop new skills, understand complicated information and interact with other people. There are different degrees of severity and impact on a child’s life.

The term learning difficulties means different things to different people. It can refer to difficulties with a specific learning difficulty, eg which affects reading or math's only. However, it can also be used more loosely to refer to a general learning disability, or explain why a child may be struggling, without the need for a formal diagnosis.

Children with significant learning difficulties may struggle to manage their behaviour compared to other children. Their behaviour often reflects their developmental level, with attention or social skills of a much younger child. Although some of these behaviours may look similar to those described in ADHD or Autism, it is often likely that those behaviours are better explained by a child’s more general learning difficulties and can be supported with appropriate strategies.


What are learning disabilities

What you can do to help

Enjoy your child like any other child. Give them lots of opportunity to practice skills - they are likely to take longer to reach the next developmental milestone and will need lots of practice. When children are very young, health and education professionals may advise you in ways to support your child, but as children get older, support is through their school. There are no medical treatments to make your child develop faster.

All schools have a responsibility to support children no matter what their additional needs are. Some children may need more support which can be provided through an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). A small number of children with EHCPs go to a specialist education provision (special school). You can find out more about this process by asking your child’s early years provider or school, or via this link:

If you are concerned about your child’s developmental progress when they are preschool age, discuss with your health visitor or GP. Your health visitor or nursery setting can open an Early help assessment (EHA) which is the start point for support.  If there are concerns about a child’s learning in school then discuss with your school Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) they will be able to advise you and support a referral to community paediatrics if needed.

How we can help

A community paediatrician thinks about the reasons why your child may have the difficulties that they have. They will examine your child, looking to see whether there is a physical explanation for their difficulties, and may request some medical tests. There are various reasons why a child might have learning disability such as a genetic syndrome, but for many children we will not be able to identify a reason. Learning Disability / Intellectual Disability will be their diagnosis and they will not have an additional medical diagnosis.

Most young children will already be under Early Support which is a joint health and education service to support your child in their early years. The team will work with you to support your child’s development and will make sure that the right support is in place as they start nursery and school. The medical team would not usually plan to review your child but will remain as a point of contact if there are any additional medical needs. Ongoing support for your child learning and development will come through school based on their needs.

Need more information?


Learning Disability Matters

MENCAP –Learning Disability explained, advice and support.

Contact  - information and advice for parents. Includes information on medical conditions, advice about education and learning, benefits and tax credits. 


NHS Choices (Overview, annual health checks, living with a diagnosis, going into hospital).

Local Support

Early Support

SCIP - Sign up for email updates on local events and activities

Pinpoint  - Parent carer support in Cambridge, offers local support and information for children and families with additional needs and disability.

SENDIASS - SEND information, advice and Support – a parent partnership service providing SEND information, Advice and support. They provide impartial and advice to CYP with special educational needs  

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