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Learning Disabilities and other Developmental Delays


The terms Learning Disability and Global Developmental Delay are now often used interchangeably. Both terms indicate that the child has some degree of difficulty in learning and in acquiring skills in social, communication, emotional, physical and sensory areas. These children can present with multifaceted needs and challenging behaviours. Common disorders which can accompany Learning Disability/GDD are Epilepsy, Allergies and Intolerances and sometimes concurrent physical disabilities.

The cause of this can be multifarious and complex. What unites these children is that there has been a pattern of atypical development of the neural pathways and connections within the brain. This may have occurred in utero or directly after birth. This poor ‘wiring’ of the brain leads to immaturity in skills and results in children experiencing a spectrum of difficulties. This spectrum can range from mild to severe. Affected children often present with a unique set of their own specific difficulties intermingled with their own distinct personality, qualities and strengths.

Often these children will have an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) and may have input from other professionals such as Speech and Language Therapists, Physiotherapists and Occupational Therapists. They may require education in Special Needs facilities but depending on the degree of their difficulties may attend mainstream school with an appropriate level of support.


Difficulties the child may experience: 

  • Communication difficulties.
  • Understanding of their bodies.
  • Interaction with others.
  • Fine and gross motor difficulties.
  • Postural tone issues.
  • Sensory sensitivity.
  • Motivation/confidence to initiate activities.
  • Difficulty learning, cognitive delay.
  • Reduced independence skills. 


Aims of therapy:

The aim of intervention would be to facilitate and encourage maturation of the child’s neurological system, so they are able to focus and attend to new learning situations.  As neurological improvements emerge specific functional skills will be encouraged and facilitated following the typical path of natural development.

Some specific aims would be to facilitate:

  • Intention to communicate.
  • Seeking meaningful interaction with others and showing the ability to share attention.
  • Improved motivation, interest and skill in fine motor activities.
  • Improved gross motor skills including posture.
  • Calmer and more manageable behaviour.
  • Better concentration.
  • Improved learning and motivation to learn.
  • An increase in independent working.
  • Improved oral – motor functioning.
  • Reduced sensory sensitivities.



Learning Disabilities and other Developmental Delays

Hemispheres Approach: 

At Hemispheres we believe that by selecting specific movements which have been purposefully developed to mature and improve the “wiring” and functioning of the central nervous system these children can make some gains. Equally, those that work with them can garner a better understanding of how to facilitate and progress their learning. Many children with these diagnoses who have been using the programme on a daily basis have reported improvements in many functional/everyday skills.

Hemispheres is able to assess these children in clinic, home and school settings, and can contribute to Appeals and Tribunals where the child’s EHCP needs are being deliberated.  These assessments are more details and, therefore, are an additional service to our standard assessment procedure. 

The Hemispheres Motor Programme™ generally works well alongside other treatment modalities. Children with a Learning Disability make up approximately 18% of the Hemispheres caseload. The setting in which these children are seen varies according to their needs. Typically school aged children are seen in school, providing a seamless level of care, however, younger children, are often seen in clinic. 

Hemispheres, currently offers services to school and charities which specialise in addressing the needs of children with learning disabilities.


Average Duration: 

On average, children with Learning Disability/GDD stay on the programme for a minimum of 12 months but may stay as long as several years.  Following an initial period of 6 sessions, the clinical appointments are spaced according to the rate of improvements in the child’s system.   Often children are seen at 2-3 monthly intervals. Early intervention will better prepare children and their carers for the challenges ahead. Hemispheres do not claim to cure Learning Disabilities/GDD, however, we do help relieve many different symptoms and improve each child’s overall level of engagement and functioning. 

Hemispheres Paediatric Occupational Therapy, Surrey, Herts & Hants.
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