Special educational needs (SEN) or special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) describe the additional learning requirements that some students require. These include behavioural difficulties, communication, coordination, concentration and social interaction. SENDs are conditions that impact a child’s classroom learning ability.
The term special educational needs and disabilities refers to students who:
The most common types of special educational needs are:
In the UK, plenty of protections exist for students with SEN or SEND. Many other countries have similar protections, which can be used as rough guidelines on what to expect if you are not in the UK.
The Care Act 2014 outlines the necessary steps to assist individuals over 18. It clarifies eligibility requirements, assessment procedures, and when fees may apply for the support provided.
If you’re a parent, there may be times when you suspect that your child has special educational needs. If this is the case, you should talk to their teacher or school as the first port of call about what they have observed, then discuss it with an appropriate healthcare professional such as a psychiatrist or GP.
As an educator, some students may stand out. They might be capable in many aspects but get lost, overwhelmed or anxious with one particular aspect of their education. Your insight may be worth sharing with their parents to encourage them to investigate further.
Talking about SEND with parents or educators can be difficult; there may be concerns about how they’ll react and whether they will understand what they can do to help. However, all parties involved benefit from being aware of any problems so that appropriate action can be taken as soon as possible if necessary.
There are many challenges that students with special educational needs and disabilities face. These include:
The result of these challenges is that children may feel different from their peers, affecting their self-esteem.
Inclusive teaching is about making your classroom a place where all students can learn and succeed. This can be achieved by using differentiated strategies, which means tailoring your lesson to the needs of each child in the class.
We all know that teaching can be a very challenging job. It already takes incredible dedication, hard work and understanding to bring knowledge to students, so there is no criticism of their commitment to supporting children in general.
The following ideas may not be practical in many situations, but are suggestions for improving teaching methods for children who are struggling:
If these suggestions are not actionable, it is worth considering outside help. Coaching and tutoring are good options that provide personalised support.
The emotional and social well-being of students with SEN or SEND is vital to their educational progress. Students who feel supported, understood and accepted by others will likely have higher self-esteem, better relationships with teachers and peers, greater motivation for learning and improved behaviour.
Teachers and parents can help support the emotional well-being of students by:
The following are some of the areas of focus while teaching students with special educational needs and disabilities:
If a child with a SEND does not feel included in the classroom, it can harm their academic success and social-emotional growth.
We work with students with special educational needs and support them with their educational goals. We work on short-term goals, such as achieving a specific grade for an exam, and long-term goals, like reducing anxiety over written work and building self-confidence. Often, both long and short-term support is combined for best results.
Here are two examples of students (all identifying information has been removed) we have worked with who exemplify these two types of support:
Jenny – ADHD and bipolar
An excellent example of a student who needed short-term help was Jenny; she struggled to stay on task during revision for her A-level exams, however, needed a high grade to go to university. Jenny has ADHD and bipolar, so we needed to work on making the most of the times when she felt most productive and being patient and kind to herself when things were too much to handle.
We practised exercises that helped with letting go of her internal bully, and as a goal, set 10 hours of revision per week, a change from the usual daily goals, as we knew that her mood changes and stress would swing a lot day to day. These changes to her expectations of herself significantly improved her mental health as we approached exams.
It is often the case that people with special educational needs are very tough on themselves as they are trying to compete with people who don’t struggle academically in the same way as them, and for Jenny, learning this was a revelation. We also hit the goal of an average of 10 hours of revision per week.
Alice – ADHD and anxiety
Our second example is Alice; she suffered from exam anxiety and froze during assessments. Part of the problem was that she was knowledgeable and had lots of good ideas but needed help to put them onto paper. She would get very flustered and stressed and then forget the vital information. The other significant issue was that she was a perfectionist and very tough on herself, which overwhelmed her when she was under pressure. This problem occurred for years, and Alice now expected to freeze during exams; we had to show that she could work through it.
Working towards the short-term goal of getting through her A-levels involved practice essay drills where we focussed on writing a plan and a short essay in under an hour. This was then repeated at least once daily, building her confidence in her skills.
During our practice, I found out that she was not originally planning on taking her A-level exams as she was so stressed about them. Together we built her confidence enough to be reasonably comfortable during the exams, and there were no significant issues.
However, our primary challenge was changing her view of herself as an academic failure. Changing something so deeply ingrained can be extremely challenging. To do so, we settled on regular meditation practice; this allowed her to become more aware of the situations that stressed her out and allowed us to address them more directly.
Over the following three months, we saw significant improvement in her self-confidence, leading to a much calmer approach to stressful situations. As a result, Alice decided to go to university after a year out and is now enjoying studying psychology.
Challenges to implementing SEND policies include a need for more funding, resources and support from the government. While many countries have adopted policies that promote inclusion in education, much work must be done to ensure all children receive an equal opportunity to learn in school.
The importance of research cannot be overstated; however, more research must be conducted on the best practices required to help students with SEND in the long run. A big challenge with research like this is that the outcome (whether the students see a benefit from a particular type of support) could take years or decades to emerge.
Collaboration between educators, parents and students would also help improve outcomes for students with special needs by providing better feedback and faster responses to good or bad support practices.
To conclude, it is essential to remember that there are many different types of special educational needs and disabilities. You should also be aware of the challenges faced by students with SEN and SEND and their families. By being informed about how best to support these students in your classroom or school setting, you can help them achieve success through inclusive practices such as accessible curriculum materials, responsive instruction styles and positive relationships with staff members
ADHD is considered a special educational need as it is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to pay attention, control impulsive behaviours, and regulate hyperactivity. Individuals with ADHD may require additional support and accommodations in education.
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a developmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behaviour. Those with autism may have difficulties with social skills and sensory processing and may exhibit repetitive or restrictive behaviours. It is considered a special educational need.
Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder affecting a person’s reading, spelling, and writing ability. It’s considered a special educational need due to difficulties with phonological processing, decoding, and recognising written words accurately and fluently.
Anxiety can significantly affect a person’s ability to learn and participate in educational settings. Therefore, students with anxiety may be considered to have a special educational need and provided with additional support and accommodations to manage their anxiety and succeed academically.
After assessing your child, the Education Authority (EA) may create a statement of special educational needs detailing the support your child requires. This is typically done when the child’s school cannot assist. You should receive notification from the EA within 12 weeks of the assessment regarding their decision to create a statement.
Special educational support should be provided to individuals who have specific learning needs or disabilities that require additional assistance to access education and reach their full potential.
Inclusive education aims to provide equal learning and participation opportunities for all students, including those with special needs, in a mainstream environment. It focuses on social integration, increased self-confidence, and preparation for the real world.