A QUARTER of schoolchildren in Scotland now require extra support amid a surge in diagnoses such as dyslexia, autism and mental health problems.
New figures reveal that 170,000 pupils in primary, secondary and special schools were identified for "additional support needs" (ASN) in 2016, up 45 per cent since 2012.
The data, compiled by campaign group the Scottish Children's Services Coalition, means that one in four pupils in Scotland have ASN, which covers a wide range of issues including learning difficulties, autism, dyslexia, visual and hearing impairment, language problems, mental health issues, physical or motor function to bereavement, substance misuse and pupils who have English as a second language.
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It also includes children who are young carers, pupils at risk of exclusion, children in care, and pupils described as "more able" whose progress significantly exceeds their peers.
Increases were recorded in every category except learning disability, with the number of children and teenagers diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder up by around 5000 to 13,423 - an increase of 55 per cent in four years. It means that around two in every hundred Scottish pupils are now considered to have some degree of autism, although psychiatrists believe this is down to clearer detection rather than an actual increase in incidence.
Meanwhile, the number of pupils with a social, emotional or behavioural difficulty increased 53 per cent to 10,495, and dyslexia cases are up by around 5000 - to 18,428.
Diagnoses of mental health problems also more than doubled to 2,836.
Elaine Lockhart, chair of the child and adolescent psychiatry faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists Scotland, said that this was partly due to poverty, especially in the west of Scotland, but also from young people feeling "freed up" to discuss mental health issues.
She added: "There's a double-edged sword to that. One is that it's really good that they're talking about feeling down or, if they're self-harming, they might be more likely to tell people. But unfortunately there's a real increase in self-harm and that's partly because young people are talking to each other about it and it's almost 'infectious' - people spread the idea about doing it.
"Then of course, there's a real increase in anxiety among young people which is no doubt partly due to social media. If children are having a hard time socially at school, it follows them home."
The SCSC warned that the increases also came against a backdrop of falling numbers of ASN teachers and support staff - down 10 and seven per cent respectively between 2012 and 2016 - and urged the Scottish Government to use cash from the £120 million Pupil Equity Funding and £50m Attainment Scotland Fund to help ASN pupils.
A spokesman for SCSC said: “It is clearly positive to see that we are become increasingly good at identifying and recording those with ASN, such as autism, dyslexia, mental health problems and learning difficulties. Greater clarity in these figures allows resourcing to be targeted in a more appropriate manner.
“However, what is key is that we provide those requiring it with the care and support that they need, if we are to genuinely close the educational attainment gap. This is clearly difficult in an environment of austerity and budget cuts, with evidence of cuts in the number of ASN teachers and support staff."
It comes as separate data on toddler check-ups revealed that two-year-olds from the poorest parts of Scotland are more than twice as likely to suffer developmental problems, including issues with attention, speech, social, emotional, behavioural, vision and hearing.
One in four children from the most deprived areas had at least one developmental concern identified during a health visitor review at 27 months, compared to 11 per cent of toddlers in the most affluent areas.