Physical disabilities

A physical disability is defined as a “limitation on a person's physical functioning, mobility, dexterity or stamina” that has a 'substantial' and 'long-term' negative effect on an individual’s  ability to do normal daily activities. (Equality Act,2010).

It can:

  • be mild or severe
  • affect a child or young person's development
  • be hidden.

Every child or young person with a physical disability is unique. Physical disabilities can range from:

  • degenerative conditions
  • trauma (physical and birth)
  • chromosome disorders
  • musculoskeletal conditions
  • limb differences
  • complex medical needs.

Common types of physical disabilities

The following are the most common types of physical disabilities for children in Kent with an education, health and care (EHC) plan.

Asthma affects your breathing.

It is a common physical disability that often starts in childhood and is a lifelong condition. The main symptoms of asthma are:

  • a whistling sound when breathing (wheezing)
  • breathlessness
  • a tight chest
  • coughing.

Watch this video from Asthma UK to learn how to spot signs of asthma in your child.

If you're unsure about your child or young person's breathing, contact your GP.

For additional support and guidance visit:

Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition that affects your movement and co-ordination.

Whilst symptoms are not often obvious during the start of a child's life, they can develop once they turn 2 or 3 years old.

Symptoms can include:

  • weak arms or legs
  • walking on their tiptoes
  • random, uncontrolled or fidgety movements
  • delays in reaching development milestones , for example, not sitting by 8 months or not walking by 18 months
  • seeming too stiff or too floppy.

Watch this video from the NHS to understand cerebral palsy.

If you're unsure if your child has cerebral palsy, contact your GP or health visitor.

For additional support and guidance visit:

Fibromyalgia is long term physical condition that affects your whole body. Symptoms can include:

  • pain all over your child or young person's body
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • memory and concentration (known as fibro-fog)
  • sleeping patterns being interrupted
  • muscle stiffness
  • increased sensitivity to pain.

Watch this video from the BBC to learn how people live with fibromyalgia.

If you're unsure whether your child or young person has fibromyalgia, contact your GP.

For additional support and guidance visit:

Hypermobility affects your joints and makes them very flexible.

It usually affects children and young people, and can get better with age. Symptoms can include:

  • feeling extra tired
  • joints dislocating
  • stretchy and thin skin
  • poor balance and co-ordination
  • sore joints or muscles.

If you're unsure whether your child or young person has hypermobility, contact your GP.

For additional support and guidance, visit

Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects the brain and spinal cord and is a lifelong condition.

Symptoms can include:

  • fatigue
  • difficulty walking
  • vision problems, such as blurred vision
  • problems controlling the bladder
  • numbness or tingling in different parts of the body
  • muscle stiffness and spasms
  • problems with balance and co-ordination
  • problems with thinking, learning and planning.

Watch this video from the MS Society explaining how people live with MS.

If you're unsure whether your child or young person has MS, contact your GP.

For additional support and guidance, visit

Spina bifida develops when a baby's spine and spinal cord does not develop properly in the mother's womb.

Most children and young people who have spina bifida can have surgery to close the opening of the spine. However, their nervous system will be damaged which can lead to:

  • problems with their legs, such as weakness or total paralysis
  • bowel or urinary incontinence
  • lack or loss of skin sensation around the legs.

Tests are usually carried out during the 18 to 21 week pregnancy scans, and after the birth.

For additional support and guidance, visit:

Tourette's syndrome can cause a person to make sounds and movements called tics.

Often, tics and other symptoms start off in childhood but can develop later in life.  Symptoms can be physical and vocal, including:

  • excessive blinking or eye rolling
  • jerking of the head or limbs
  • uncontrollable movements
  • throat clearing
  • whistling and tongue clicking
  • saying or repeating random words and phrases
  • touching objects and other people.

Tics are not usually harmful, but physical tics, such as jerking of the head, can be painful. They can also be affected by, stress, anxiety or tiredness.

Children and young people with tourette's syndrome may also have:

If you're unsure whether your child or young person has tourette's syndrome, contact your GP.

For additional support and guidance, visit:

For other physical disabilities visit the NHS website for advice and guidance.

Education support

If your child or young person has specific SEN needs, their education setting can put in specific support to help them. This includes the above information shown .

See what support is available in:

Specialist resource provisions and special schools

Some children and young people with specific learning difficulties (SpLD) require additional ongoing support and equipment to access all the opportunities available to their peers.

specialist resource provision (SRP) provides support for those, who without specialist input, are unlikely to make progress in their learning and will struggle to take part in mainstream school life. To be considered for SRP support the child or young person must have an education health and care (EHC) plan.

special school provides education and support to children and young people with an education, health and care (EHC) plan who have complex special educational needs and require their SEN provision to be delivered in a specialist setting.

Support from Specialist Teaching and Learning Service

Our Specialist Teaching Learning Service (STLS) Physical Disability Needs Team help your child's education setting to support children with disabilities or complex medical needs.

Find out more about the Specialist Teaching and Learning Service (STLS).

Health services

Whilst most healthcare services (GPs, dentists, opticians) can help your child or young person through everyday appointments, to receive additional support, parents or carers can either ask for targeted health services or specialist health support. Children and young people will usually be assessed or referred via their:

Children and young people aged 5 to 18 should:

  • aim for an average of at least 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous intensity physical activity a day across the week
  • take part in a variety of types and intensities of physical activity across the week to develop movement skills, muscles and bones
  • reduce the time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity. Aim to spread activity throughout the day.

Find out how to get fit and stay healthy.

To get support from specialist services, a child or young person’s disability must be permanent and substantial and impact their ability to do daily activities and impact their family’s wellbeing.

Find out more about specialist health services.

Targeted health service support is available to those with more complex needs who cannot be supported through general healthcare services. Support can include occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy.

Find out more about targeted health services.

If you think you need a wheelchair, please visit your GP and discuss a referral. Once your GP supports your request, they will refer you to the Kent and Medway Wheelchair Service.

Once received, the Kent and Medway Wheelchair Service we will add you to their waiting list for an assessment with their clinical team. One of their occupational therapists or therapy assistants will carry out the assessments. They will look at your mobility needs and any associated pressure care requirements.

Find out more about the Kent and Medway Wheelchair Service.

For other mobility aid support visit the NHS website.

If your young person is looking for additional support moving into adulthood, you can contact your social worker, GP, nurse to request a referral to the NHS continuing healthcare.

Support can be paid for through social services, with some young people getting additional support through a personal health budget.

Learn more about the NHS continuing healthcare service.