Objectives: We sought to determine the frequency of learning disability (IQ > 70) among referrals over a period of six years to a community child psychiatric service in a socially disadvantaged area of Dublin.
Methods: We investigated the gender and age characteristics, as well as the frequency of speech and language, emotional, and behavioural problems in this group. We tried to determine what educational help each child was receiving at the time of referral.
Results: Sixty-five of 942 patients referred to the clinic had a mild (60) or moderate (five) learning disability. Forty-eight patients were male and 17 were female. The mean age at referral was 10.5 years, and there was no gender difference. All were referred because of educational problems. Behavioural disorders were present in 31, emotional disorders in 13 and speech and language disorders in 37. Six had suffered some form of abuse, mostly emotional. Five had problems with concentration or markedly impulsive behaviour. At the time of referral, 10 were in special schools, seven were in special classes in normal schools, and nine had a special resource teacher. Adequate educational support was not being adequately provided for 33 at the time of psychiatric referral.
Conclusions: Learning disability occurs in 7% of children referred to the child psychiatry clinic of a disadvantaged urban community and, while this may reflect the late onset of psycho-social and educational problems in such children, these findings give cause for concern that delayed referral may exacerbate their and their families' problems. The educational needs of most of the children were not being addressed. Reasons for these findings are discussed.