There will be a decrease in the number of children with a disability in Ireland by 2030 due to falling fertility rates, according to joint research by the ESRI and Pobal.

Both organisations say accurate information on childhood disability is required so that policy can be appropriately informed and resourced.

They say children with disabilities must have equal access to early learning and school age care and education.

The research shows that the number of children receiving assistance from the Access and Inclusion Model - which is designed to support children with disabilities participate in the ECCE pre-school programme - has been "increasing rapidly" since its introduction in 2016.

It also shows that there are geographical variations in the proportion of children with disabilities at the county-level who receive supports under the AIM programme.

The supports are demand-led and respond to the needs of children in the context of the pre-school they are attending, rather than the diagnosis.

The most recent Census of Population (2016) shows that 4.5% of 3 to 5-year-olds were reported as having a disability - up from 4.3% in 2011.

The ESRI and Pobal say there is significant variation in the occurrence of individual types of disability.

In 2016, 0.6% of children aged three to five had a serious vision impairment, blindness, a serious hearing impairment or deafness.

2% had a physical limitation, 3% had an intellectual disability and 1% had a psychological or emotional condition.

3% of three to five-year-olds reported as having an 'other' disability not covered by the types of disability mentioned.

County-level differences are also observed in the overall measurement of disability among children.

In 2016, disability rates among three to five-year-olds ranged from 4% in Leitrim to 6% in Offaly compared to a national average of 4.5%.

Rates of disability were consistently higher than the national average in Carlow, Cork, Dublin, Laois, Limerick, Offaly, Tipperary, and Westmeath in both 2011 and 2016.

Dr Adele Whelan of the ESRI stressed the need for accurate information on the current and future rates of disability among young children to allow for planning that can facilitate the full participation of children with disabilities in early learning and care.

"This research highlights the complexity associated with measuring childhood disability and the importance of accounting for demographic factors in planning for future provision," she said.

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