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How we determine if a child has a disability

The criteria we use to determine if a child has a disability and can access specialist services.

We assess children with disabilities to see what type of support they need. Our priority is always to support children to remain safely and happily with their families and to benefit from activities within the community.

How we assess if a child has a disability 

Under the Equality Act 2010, a disabled person is defined as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. We use this definition as the basis for determining if a child should be regarded as disabled.

Types of disability

Depending on their circumstances, a child might be considered disabled if they have:

  • multiple and complex health needs
  • a significant learning disability
  • autism or communication disorders with significant impairment of communication or intellectual functioning
  • special sensory impairments, such as hearing loss, visual impairments, deafblindness
  • a chronic physical illness
  • significant pre-school developmental delay.

The child would usually meet the eligibility thresholds for DLA. The need for a carer's assessment should be carefully considered in such cases.

Additional needs

The following conditions are normally considered additional needs and not a disability:

  • emotional and behavioural difficulties, such as ADHD, not due to impairments listed above
  • mental health conditions
  • dyslexia
  • dyspraxia
  • speech and language difficulties.

However, we do not only base our decision about a child's disability status on whether or not they have a particular diagnosis, but on the impact of their needs and condition.

Children in need

If a child does not meet the disability criteria, they may still be considered a child in need for other reasons.

Other legislation 

Other definitions of disability are included in the following legislation and guidance:

  • The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1979
  • Disabled Persons (Services Consultation and Representation) Act 1986;
  • Children Act 1989
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1995
  • Education Act 1996
  • Together from the Start Guidance (2003)

Other legislation and guidance that highlight the assessment and support needs of children with disabilities include:

  • Children and Young Person’s Act (2008)
  • Children and Families Act (2014)
  • Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015