Relentless growth of special needs

15th May 2009 at 01:00

Two of the headlines in last week's papers - "One in five is now classed as special needs" and "Great puppy fat myth" - sadly come as no surprise. They are the product of a society that increasingly ignores the physical developmental needs of children.

In studies we carried out in a number of schools in 2004, we found that 48 per cent of five to six-years-olds and 35 per cent of eight to nine-year-olds still had traces of infant reflexes, which should not be active beyond the first year of life. Retention of these reflexes into childhood has been shown to interfere with educational performance and indicates immaturity in the development of physical skills. The same study showed that children with immature physical skills showed lower academic achievement.

Daily physical interaction with the environment and social engagement with parents are as important to a child's social development as good nutrition is for growth and wellbeing. Increasingly, stressed parents struggle to hold family finances together and "virtual" relationships replace real ones for several hours of the day. Little wonder that a growing number of children's speech and social skills are immature.

I regularly see children who are three to four years behind their chronological age in reading and related skills, who have neither been referred to an educational psychologist nor received remedial intervention appropriate to their needs. Nor have their physical skills been assessed to ascertain whether they have control of eye movements needed for reading, hand-eye co-ordination for writing and control of balance and posture needed to sit still.

Until attention is paid to the developmental needs and abilities of children, I fear the figures for those classed as having special needs will continue to rise.

Sally Goddard Blythe, Director, The Institute for Neuro- Physiological Psychology, Chester.

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