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Schools need to find new ways of teaching to cater for a massive influx of children with increasingly complex special needs and disabilities, says a new study.
The Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities Research Project, a two-year study carried out by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), found that urgent action is needed to help schools serve a new generation of young people with special needs and disabilities.

Many of these children, the report claims, have educational needs not previously experienced by schools. They include increasing numbers of severely disabled young people surviving to school age because of advances in medical treatment and the emergence of new types of complex special needs, such as children suffering from the consequences of foetal alcohol syndrome.

The Project, funded by the Department for Education and led by the SSAT’s Associate Director, Professor Barry Carpenter, argues that new training in special needs and disabilities must be systematically introduced across all schools. Teaching assistants should be given extra support and training, and teachers and health workers should learn from parents of children with rare and complex disabilities and special needs. The report also calls for long-term research to ensure that schools are able to offer the best teaching to these children.

Researchers carried out a survey of the latest research into trends in disabilities and special needs and developed practical teaching guides. Briefing packs on a wide range of newly-emerging disabilities and other conditions have been produced for both special and mainstream schools to help teachers deal with increasingly complex special needs.

The conditions covered include attachment disorder, rare chromosomal disorders, mental health problems, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sensory impairment, autism, fragile X syndrome, long term effects of drug use during pregnancy, and  the long term effects of premature birth.

Professor Carpenter said: “This is not just an issue for special schools. Teachers in mainstream schools need to be aware of these trends because they are increasingly likely to encounter children with problems they have not seen before.”

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