Understanding the mental health needs of pupils with severe learning disabilities in an inner city local authority



Accessible summary

  • • We wanted to find out how many children and young people with learning disabilities in our local authority also have mental health difficulties.
  • • Parents and teachers of children and young people attending two schools for children with severe learning disabilities were asked to complete the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire.
  • • We found that children and young people with learning disabilities were more likely to have mental health difficulties than most other groups of children and young people.
  • • This information has been used to make suggestions for improving local services.


To plan the effective delivery of local services, it is important to find out the extent to which children with learning disabilities are perceived as experiencing difficulties such as finding it hard to behave or make friends, or being overactive. Having obtained ethical approval, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire was sent to 178 parents and teachers of children attending one primary and one secondary school for children with severe learning disabilities. One hundred and forty-eight teacher’s questionnaires and 70 parent’s questionnaires were returned. Teachers thought that over one-third of pupils (39.2%) had serious difficulties; parents thought that about half of children (55.7%) had serious difficulties. These results are similar to some previous studies in the United Kingdom. To help plan effective service delivery, the report has been shared with the schools and local services for children. Teachers are also being encouraged to learn more about mental health problems and services that children can use to help their mental health.