Special Educational Needs (SEN)

Understanding SEN

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What is SEN?

A child has special educational needs (SEN) if he or she has learning difficulties or a disability that make it harder for him or her to learn than most other children of the same age.

SEN covers a broad spectrum of difficulty or disability. Children may have wide-ranging or specific problems. For example, a child might have difficulty with one area of learning, such as letters or numbers, or they might have problems relating to other children or to adults.

Many children will have SEN of some kind during their school years. Schools and other organisations can help most children overcome the barriers their difficulties present quickly and easily. However, a few children may need some additional support for some or all of their time in school.

So, a child with SEN may have:

  • learning difficulties – in acquiring basic skills in school
  • emotional and behavioural difficulties – making friends or relating to adults or behaving properly in school
  • specific learning difficulty – with reading, writing, number work or understanding information
  • sensory or physical needs – such as hearing or visual impairment, which might affect them in school
  • communication problems – in expressing themselves or understanding what others are saying
  • medical or health conditions – which may slow down a child’s progress and/or involves treatment that affects his or her education.

Children make progress at different rates and have different ways in which they learn best. School teachers take account of this in the way they organise their lessons and teach. Children making slower progress or having particular difficulties in certain areas may be given extra support or lessons that have been modified to help them understand the work.

It is important to understand that just because your child is making slower progress than you expect or the teachers are providing your child with different support, help or activities in class, does not necessarily mean that your child has special educational needs.

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Health conditions that may contribute to SEN

Many health problems can disrupt a child’s life at school and interfere with their education. But some have particularly profound effects on their ability to learn. Below we look at some of the more common conditions where a child may have SEN, which can cause particular problems for children at school.

Many SEN conditions vary in their effect and while some children with them have major learning difficulties, others have no learning problems and a completely normal school life. Below is a list of selected SEN conditions, but is by no means a complete list of all known conditions.

  • Autism and Asperger syndrome – part of a range of disorders that can cause difficulties with communication and social skills
  • Angelman syndrome – a rare condition characterised by severe learning difficulties
  • Blindness – only around 18 percent of blind people are totally blind
  • Cerebral palsy – it’s estimated that as many as one in every 400 children may have the condition
  • Cornelia de Lange Syndrome – this rare condition causes a range of mild to severe symptoms
  • Costello syndrome – a rare genetic disorder
  • Crouzon syndrome – a condition which distorts the shape of the skull
  • Deafness – around one in five people in the UK has hearing difficulties
  • DiGeorge syndrome – affecting about one in 4,000 births
  • Down’s syndrome – is the most common inherited cause of learning disability
  • Epilepsy – affects around one in 200 school-age children
  • Fragile X – the main problem of this condition is intellectual impairment
  • Joubert syndrome – a rare inherited disorder in which there are involuntary movements and breathing problems in infancy
  • Kabuki syndrome – a rare and complex condition
  • Mucopolysaccharide diseases – a group of inherited diseases caused by a shortage of a particular enzyme
  • Oppositional defiant disorder – a psychiatric disorder in children that can be difficult to diagnose
  • Phenylketonuria – can cause progressive developmental delay and severe learning difficulties
  • Prader-Willi syndrome – behavioural problems are common symptoms in this chromosomal disorder
  • Spina bifida – is caused by defects to the spine and can cause mobility difficulties
  • Stammer – can cause real distress for children, however there are ways to improve speech and language
  • Synaesthesia – a neurological mixing of the senses
  • Treacher Collins syndrome – about one in every 10,000 babies is born with this genetic condition
  • Usher syndrome – is characterised by hearing loss, visual problems and problems with balance.
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If you believe your child has SEN

You know your child better than anyone else. If your child is pre-school, don’t wait for their next routine health check – visit your GP and ask for their opinion. If your child attends a pre-school, speak to their teacher or key worker. If your child is already in school (including nursery) talk to their teacher. Ask also to speak to the school’s Special Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO), who organises extra help for children with SEN.

Talk to the teacher/SENCO about:

  • why you think your child has SEN
  • whether your child learns at the same rate as other children their age
  • what the school can do to help
  • what you can do to help.

Your child’s teacher and the SENCO will use the SEN Code of Practice to work out whether your child has SEN.

Working together with your child’s teachers will often help to sort out worries and problems. The closer you work with your child’s teachers, the more successful any help can be.

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