Family & Education

Study finds 23,000 with learning disabilities


Around one in 13 British Jews has a learning disability, according to the first attempt to quantify such incidences in the community.

As many as 23,000 Jews are estimated to have a special educational need, ranging from those with severe disabilities such as Down’s syndrome to milder forms such as dyslexia.

The figures suggest “there are a lot of people who, for whatever reason, the existing Jewish organisations are not reaching,” said Jonathan Joseph, chairman of the charity Langdon, which commissioned the research.

While there is no direct data for the percentage of British Jews with learning disabilities, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research described the overall estimate of 7.4 per cent as a “good approximation”.

According to the JPR figures, there are roughly 1,600 Jews with “severe” educational needs; 2,100 in the “borderline” category who are unlikely to receive mainstream education; a further 7,100 with “moderate” disabilities who may be in mainstream education but with significant special educational support; and 12,400 — the majority — with “mild” disabilities, such as dyspraxia.

Mr Joseph believed there was “a lack of awareness” about the kind of facilities offered by Jewish charities in the field. Langdon supports around 150 young Jews in London and Manchester.

“We help people to find high-quality education, we provide exemplary levels of day-to-day to care, we help administer finance and provide extensive levels of employment training,” he explained.

He hoped the research would prompt further work in conjunction with the Norwood children’s charity and the Kisharon special educational school to improve their reach.

Mr Joseph said all the agencies were “trying to contend with the day-to-day issues of government cuts, trying to find good members of staff and suitable property in the south east for people to live in”.

But the research marked an attempt to “raise our eyes above the parapet” and plan ahead. “As Jewish charities, we need to expand our horizons and do better,” he said. “We have a moral duty to answer what we see as a perceived need.”

According to the JPR statistics, there are around 10,400 Jews with severe to moderate learning disabilities whose needs may range from full-time care to a few hours of monitoring a week.

Its figures were extrapolated from a range of studies which measured the incidence of learning disability among Israeli Jews and among the broader British and American populations.

Learning disability is more prevalent among men, with the JPR suggesting just under one in 10 Jewish boys and men experience it, compared with slightly over one in 20 Jewish girls and women.

According to the 2011 Scottish Census, 4.2 per cent of Jews reported a learning disability, difficulty or developmental order – compared with 3.1 per cent of the general Scottish population.

The higher prevalence among Jews was unusual because it stood in “contrast to other medical conditions”, Dr Daniel Staetsky, the author of the JPR report, noted.

Dr Staetsky observed the incidence of more profound disabilities in the Scottish report tallied with what might be expected from the other sources of data.

But a census, where people were reporting their own conditions, might not pick up the milder forms. There was no equivalent question in the census for England and Wales.

Dr Beverley Jacobson, chief executive of Kisharon, said the research was important in “helping to put the issue centre stage”.

She added: “Given we have got no other way of drawing down the information, this is as good a way as we have. It is important to recognise the prevalence of the problem in the Jewish community.”

Elaine Kerr, Norwood chief executive, said: “The figures in this report remind us all of the essential need for services that support children and adults with learning disabilities.

“We understand the prevalence of learning disabilities in the British Jewish community as we provide services for thousands of people each year. We look forward to continuing to offer support and care to all those who need it.”

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