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Robert Bloomfield

Overview of SEND

Some children have difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn compared to most children of the same age.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) is a term that describes the difficulties and disabilities that can affect a child’s ability to learn.

Most children with special educational needs overcome these challenges eventually, but they are likely to need extra support and help during the early years and at a young age.

Examples of SEND include difficulties with:

  1. Speech, language, reading and writing
  2. Concentration and the ability to understand things
  3. Behaviour and emotions
  4. Socialise and make friends
  5. Physical ability

If a child does not have English as their first language, it does not mean they have special educational needs.

The difference between a learning difficulty and a disability

Just because a child has Special Educational Needs (SEN), does not necessarily mean they also have a disability and vice versa. They do often overlap, however.

There is often an overlap between disability and special educational needs. Therefore, a child can be defined as being disabled, having a special educational need (SEN) or having both a special educational need and a disability (SEND).

The Equality Act (2010) defines disability as

a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

This definition provides a relatively low threshold and includes many children and adults. Long term is defined by the Equality Act as a year or more and substantial is defined as more than minor to trivial.

What are the types of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities?

In the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice, the Department of Education has identified four broad areas of need for children and young people which come under SEN.

The four areas of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities are:

  1. Communication and interaction
  2. Cognition and learning
  3. Social, emotional and mental health difficulties
  4. Sensory and/or physical needs

If a child has difficulties in one or more of these areas, they may be classed as having Special Educational Needs and qualify for special educational provision.


Communication and interaction

Children with speech, language and communication difficulties may find it hard to express themselves or to understand others.

This could make it harder for a child to interact with others make friends, communicate their thoughts effectively and understand what is being said to them.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which includes Asperger’s and Autism will be likely to have particular difficulties with social interaction.

Cognition and learning

This area of SEN affects a child’s ability to think, understand and learn.

If a child has difficulties with cognition and learning, they may struggle with all or specific areas of the curriculum, such as literacy and numeracy, and learn at a slower pace than their peers.

A child may have complex learning difficulties, such as Moderate Learning Difficulties (MLD) or Severe Learning Difficulties (SLD) and will require support in all areas of learning.

Children with specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia or dyspraxia may only need support to learn specific skills.

Social, emotional and mental health difficulties

Social and emotional difficulties can present themselves in a wide variety of ways and a child may become withdrawn or display disruptive behaviour.

A child may find it hard to manage relationships with other people or behave in ways that prevent their own or others’ learning and wellbeing.

Underlying mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders may be the cause.

Alternatively, a child may have been diagnosed with a disorder such as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).

Sensory and/or physical needs

This area covers children who have a disability or medical condition that affects their learning and prevents them from making use of generally provided educational facilities.

Children with visual, hearing, multi-sensory or physical impairments may need additional support or equipment to access learning.

SEND charities

Many charities provide support to children who have SEND and their parents.

  1. I CAN offers support to children who struggle with communication and can give practical help and advice for parents.
  2. SOS!SEN help parents stand up for their children’s rights and can give advice and support on a range of issues. The charity has a helpline that is open five days a week during term time as well as drop in advice centres.
  3. Contact exists to support families with a disabled child to feel valued, supported and informed. Their free helpline is open for people who have questions or concerns regarding education, childcare, finances and more.