Special Educational Needs or Disability
A school’s Special Educational Needs or Disability (SEND) system is there to support children who need extra help with their learning. It also looks to help children who have difficulties socialising with others.
What sort of special needs are there?
There are four main categories of special needs:
Dyslexia: Difficulty with reading and spelling because words can seem blurred or to move around on a page. Children may also struggle to learn sequences like the days of the week or times tables.
Dyspraxia: Difficulty with fine control like writing or doing up buttons. Children may seem clumsy and bump into things.
Processing disorders: Difficulty in remembering instructions or following a conversation.
Down’s Syndrome: A chromosomal disorder which affects a child’s ability to learn.
Behavioural or emotional
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD): Children with ADD have a tendency to be easily distracted or struggle to focus on a set task.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Like ADD, but the hyperactivity may cause children to call out and they may show a lack of self-control.
Autism: Autism affects children in different ways but it’s usually linked to difficulties socialising, communicating and dealing with changes to routine. Autistic children often repeat behaviours or words.
Asperger Syndrome: Asperger syndrome is a form of autism. Children with Asperger’s can usually communicate as well as their classmates but struggle to join in conversations or pick up on how others may be feeling. Their interests or behaviours may sometimes appear obsessive.
The most common sensory special needs are visual and hearing impairments.
Examples of physical special needs include muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, chronic asthma and epilepsy.
What do I do if I think my child has a special need?
If you have concerns that your child is having trouble learning or socialising, talk to the their teacher who will have a sense of whether they are significantly different from their classmates. If after doing this you’re still concerned or feel action needs to be taken, ask for a meeting with the school’s SEND Co-ordinator (also called SENCo or SENDCo).
Lots of adjustments can be made to help children at school — e.g. coloured overlays for children with dyslexia, sitting children away from distractions or providing common words on a laminated sheet for easy reference. Schools will try strategies like these first as employing extra teaching assistants will have a big impact on the school budget.
What if my child needs extra help?
If your child needs help like a dedicated teaching assistant or specialised equipment, an application for an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) may need to be made. These were previously known as ‘statements’. Applications are usually made by the SENCo but can also be made by a parent or a health care professional.
How does a child get an EHCP?
For the EHCP application, both reports and assessments are needed. These may come from child psychologists, paediatricians or other professionals who have worked with the child. There will also be statements from parents, teachers and the child. The local authority is most likely to agree to funding an EHCP if a range of evidence has been gathered. It’s important that the school and parents have a close working relationship so they can put forward a strong case.
How long does it take?
It can take some time to gather all the relevant reports and show that different strategies have been tried and found to be inadequate. For children whose difficulties are less severe, it may take months or even years. Once an application for an EHCP has been made, the Local Authority should respond within 16 weeks. If the application is turned down or if the offer is less than you were expecting, you have 28 days to appeal the decision.
It’s not always easy but remember that support is available
Having a child with special needs or a disability (or both) can be challenging. It’s important for everyone involved that you have the right support in place. Talk to the school about accessing any help that’s available to you.