Physical disabilities

Physical disabilities cover many different conditions that present with difficulties of physical functioning, mobility, dexterity or stamina

Children and young people with physical difficulties may have an acquired or inherited physical condition. The effects of a physical difficulty can be reduced through making changes to your child’s environment (making this more accessible) and/or the use of assistive equipment.

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Physical conditions

This is a brief overview of some of the more common conditions that show physical needs. 

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a condition that affects muscle control and movement. In the UK, cerebral palsy affects about 1 in every 400 children. It is usually caused by an injury to the brain before, during or after birth, but there may be no obvious single reason.

Scope has a lot of information and advice about cerebral palsy and general disability-related issues.

Muscular dystrophy

Muscular dystrophy is a muscle-wasting condition. There are many different types of muscular dystrophy and on the Muscular Dystrophy UK website they have information about many muscle wasting conditions as well as a lot of information support and guidance related to these conditions.

Spina bifida

Spina bifida literally means 'split spine'. A fault in the development of the spinal cord and surrounding bones (vertebrae) leaves a gap or split in the spine. The spinal cord has not formed properly, and may also be damaged. Shine give advice and support for spina bifida.


Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a joint. There are different types of arthritis, some are more common in older people but can affect children too.  Versus Arthritis has information and support about arthritis and the different conditions under that heading which can affect children including juvenile idiopathic arthritis which first occurs before a child is 16.


An amputation is the surgical removal of part of the body, such as an arm or leg.

This may have been because of a severe infection in the limb, the limb may have had gangrene, trauma from an accident or injury, or a genetic disorder. Steps have produced a parents’ guide to planned amputation of lower limbs.

Genetic disorders

A genetic disorder is caused by one or more abnormalities formed in the genome. Most genetic disorders are quite rare and affect one person in every several thousand or millions. It is estimated that 1 in 25 children is affected by a genetic disorder. Genetic Alliance UK is an extremely informative website about this complex subject. They also have a list of groups that give support and information about specific genetic disorders.

Seeking advice or referral for assessment

If you are concerned about your child’s development, speak to your GP, health visitor, school health nurse, a social worker. Health visitors and GPs will look at what age the child is reaching their developmental milestones, such as learning to talk and developing physical skills.

Your child may be referred to specialists in child development who can do some checks and tests to see if there is a need.

Children with physical difficulties will often receive help from a physiotherapist and/or an occupational therapist from the children’s community health partnership (CCHP). 

Further Information

Cerebral Palsy Plus is a Bristol area charity working with children and adults with Cerebral Palsy, their families and their carers.

Find out more from the NHS website about different conditions.

Contact is a charity that supports families with disabled children. They have a lot of information and advice on many issues your family may need help with