Having the right equipment for your child with SEND can make family life a lot easier. It can help to keep your child safe and enable them to access activities that they would otherwise be excluded from.
Examples of specialist equipment include:
- Assistive technology, such as door alarms and GPS and radio-transmitter tracking devices for children who wander off
- Communication aids, such as communication boards, eye-gaze systems and switches
- Mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, walkers, major buggies or adapted cycles
- Travel equipment, such as specialist car seats, five-point harnesses and buckle guards for children who undo their seat belts
- Home adaptations, such as specialist beds, grab rails or door locks
- Specialist toys, such as sensory toys or specialist swing seats
The Challenging Behaviour Foundation has published a useful overview of specialist equipment and suppliers (https://www.challengingbehaviour.org.uk/understanding-behaviour/specialist-equipment-sheet.html).
There is also information about car seats, which has been published by the Early Years Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy Service: https://www.sheffieldchildrens.nhs.uk/download/354/early-years/5353/car-seat-information.pdf
Specialist equipment can be expensive, but you may be able to access it for free through a local authority or NHS service. In Sheffield, there are three services that can provide specialist equipment:
- Mobility and Specialised Rehabilitation Centre (https://www.sth.nhs.uk/services/wheelchair-services): Located at the Northern General Hospital, this service can only be accessed via referral from a health professional. It provides wheelchairs and special seating for children and adults meeting the specified criteria.
- Equipment and Adaptations Team (https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/home/housing/adapting-your-home): This local authority service also accepts self-referrals from families. It can provide safety equipment, like grab rails, safety gates or specialist bathing equipment, and can fund home adaptations via grants (https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/home/disability-mental-health/disabled-facilities-grant).
- Integrated Community Equipment Service (ICES) (http://www.sheffielddirectory.org.uk/kb5/sheffield/directory/service.page?id=OxUOG-Y11uI): This service provides the loan of aids for daily living, such as bathing, mobility, seating, toileting and bedroom equipment items, to individuals and schools. Loans must be prescribed by a health professional (e.g. Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist, District Nurse), and self-referrals from families are not accepted. All special requests for equipment must also be emailed to ICES commissioning for further consideration at CES@sheffield.gov.uk
If your child needs equipment that is not provided by the NHS or the local authority (such as a specialist car seat), then you may be able to get some funding from a charity or trust fund, or make use of a loan scheme like the Newlife Foundation (https://newlifecharity.co.uk/).
The biggest provider of grants for families with disabled children in the UK is the Family Fund (https://www.familyfund.org.uk/).
However, there are many other grant-giving organisations. Some have very specific criteria; for example, they may only cater for children with specific disabilities, or for parents in specific professions. The websites Disability Grants UK (https://www.disability-grants.org/) and Turn 2 Us (https://grants-search.turn2us.org.uk/) provide a good overview of grant-giving organisations and their criteria.
If you need help with completing grant application forms, contact Citizens Advice Sheffield.
The Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy Department at the Ryegate Children’s Centre (http://www.sheffielddirectory.org.uk/kb5/sheffield/directory/service.page?id=Ly8pEHxIr0E) can help families whose children are on their caseload to access specialist equipment. Occupational Therapists can carry out assessments to identify the most appropriate equipment; loan equipment on a trial basis; make referrals to statutory services; and support families who don’t meet the eligibility criteria for statutory services to apply for charitable funding. Examples of equipment accessed through this service include reigns and harnesses, specialist beds, mobility equipment and safe spaces. For pieces of equipment costing over £2,500, an Individual Funding Request has to be made to a specialist funding panel.
The Speech and Language Therapy Department at Flockton House (https://www.sheffieldchildrens.nhs.uk/services/speech-and-language-therapy/) can support families whose children are on their caseload to establish communication skills and any appropriate paper-based and battery-powered communication aids.
Some battery-powered equipment (such as switches) can be loaned from the service on a trial basis and for long term.
Frequently, if a child meets the criteria, an onward referral is made to an NHS England AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication) Hub, who can provide assessment of communication skills, trial and loan powered communication aids where appropriate. Barnsley Assistive Technology (https://www.barnsleyhospital.nhs.uk/assistive-technology/) is the hub for children whose GP surgery is within the Yorkshire or South Humber regions.