Referral Criteria – Support with communication for a child or young person with a learning disability

Many people with learning disabilities have some difficulties with communication. This might present as difficulty in understanding what other people are saying or difficulty in young people and children being able to express themselves. Behaviour that could be described as ‘challenging’ is very commonly associated with such difficulties, and an understanding of the issues around communication may help to explain why challenging behaviour occurs. Improving communication may be helpful in reducing or preventing challenging behaviour.

Conditions in scope

The Children’s Community Learning Disabilities Team will accept requests for service for:

  • Children or young people up to 18 years of age, registered with a Devon GP, who have a diagnosis of profound, severe (or moderate, where there are child protection issues) learning disabilities, including those children and young people who have acquired this status

Requests will be considered for:

  • Children or young people who have been identified as having a cognitive impairment which is severe or profound and which limits educational and practical development
  • Children or young people attending other special schools or attending mainstream provision (or attached units) with a Statement of Special Educational Needs (or Education, Health Care plan equivalent), dependent upon the child/young person’s level of learning disability, the level of functional impairment and the nature and severity of the presenting problem.

Exclusion criteria

Requests for service will not be accepted for children or young people with:

  • Mild learning disability
  • Higher functioning Autism Spectrum Conditons (i.e. average or above average intelligence),
  • Acquired head or brain injury
  • Issues that are school based only, where the family does not require support – these should be supported by educational services such as Educational Psychology and Behaviour Support services

Consideration will be given on a case by case basis in regard to specific syndromes that do not necessarily mean there is an associated learning disability.

The requester should first consider appropriate mainstream services that would better meet the child/young person’s needs or provide the evidence that the child/young person’s disorder meets the criteria.

For example, if a child or young person with a learning disability presents with possible mental health problems, then a request should be made via the Single Point of Access (SPA) to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

There are times when it might be more appropriate for a child/young person to access mainstream services, such as school and public health nursing, in line with the guidance around inclusive practices.

Pre-request requirements

A request for service is appropriate if there are significant concerns about the child’s development, health, well-being or behaviour and these are having a significant impact on the child’s functioning at home.

Before referring:

  • It is important that the child/young person has been seen in person and assessed by the person making the request for service
  • Prior attempts have already been made by frontline staff to resolve the child/young person’s difficulties with mainstream support, and that evidence of this is included along with the formal request
  • Formal consent has been obtained for someone with legal parental responsibility for the child before a request is made
  • Information from the person making the request regarding what has been discussed/is needed to support the child, young person and/or family to engage with the service (see Request for Services form)

If your request for support is around a specific behaviour please download our ABC forms to record and describe the presenting behaviours.

How can I help before making a request?

The mechanics of support around communication and difficulties with speech and language should be overseen by a specialist Speech and Language Therapist. The Learning Disabilities team will work alongside other specialists when additional support may be required, such as for young people with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.


Children and Family Health Devon
Single Point of Access Team
1a Capital Court
Bittern Road
Sowton Industrial Estate
Exeter EX2 7FW


t: 0330 0245 321