Twenty Signs Of Special Educational Needs In School Children
A nagging feeling that something isn't quite right?
Don't wait for teachers to flag up difficulties; it is often the parent, with their holistic knowledge of a child, that first spots difficulties.
Most children will experience some of the symptoms listed below, to a lesser or greater extent but, if you can count off more than three or four, it may be time to think about enlisting some extra help.
What should you look out for?
Twenty Indicators of Special Educational Needs
The child who:
Is easily distracted.
Generates distraction or is considered the class clown.
Engages in disruptive or aggressive behaviour.
Gets angry with themselves, often over seemingly trivial issues. May be a perfectionist and/or have demonstrably low self-esteem.
Does not enjoy school.
Becomes stressed when starting tasks or when asked to work on their own.
Is reluctant to do homework, especially unaided.
Makes little or no progress at school. (Some children may even regress).
Avoids reading or takes no pleasure from it.
Can read but reads slowly. Has good eyesight but is monosyllabic when reading aloud (or may refuse to read out loud). May struggle to scan text.
Declares they 'hate maths' when in reality 'they don't get it'.
Is disorganised - late settling to work, last to finish packing-up and leaving the classroom. 'Forgets' to do homework or revise for tests.
Forgets what the task is; has trouble remembering more than two or three instructions at once.
Has spider hand-writing, presentation of work is messy and paintings indecipherable.
Is articulate but can't or won't put pen to paper.
Has an awkward pencil grip. May have difficulty remembering where to start writing and/or struggle to copy accurately from the board.
Bumps into things, is clumsy and has poor spatial awareness. May have difficulty hopping, jumping or catching a ball and will literally trip-over their own feet.
Hears but frequently mis-hears what is said. They may be able to repeat sentences verbatim but not comprehend meaning or grasp nuance.
Finds making and sustaining friendships problematic, even avoiding social contact altogether. May be shy and withdrawn and/or avoid eye-contact altogether.
Has difficulty with change. Even pleasant surprises can be upsetting.
And, having parents with these symptoms!
These are all characteristics of normal childhood too, which is why some SENs are difficult to spot. Unless a school tests every child some children will be missed.
When should I ask for my child to be helped?
You don't have to have a formal diagnosis of a special need to request help for your child. If you suspect your child has a 'learning difference' or difficulty, or you're just worried about them, seek advice - your child's class teacher, the school SENCO, GP or health-visitor are good starting points. Depending on the type of need and your circumstances, help may be available before they even start school.
Teachers and others working with children are becoming notably more alert to SEN, and supportive of formal assessment. Many schools now routinely screen for specific learning difficulties and a good classroom teacher will be alert to special needs. However, formal assessment for SEN is not something a classroom teacher can do, they have neither the time nor the training. It is carried out by Educational Psychologists (don't be put off by the title, the good ones are friendly, helpful and accommodating). If you have any reason to suspect your child has special or additional needs consider getting a formal assessment.
A good EP will administer a battery of well-proven tests in a way that your child will find interesting rather than frightening, and produce a detailed written report that describes your child's educational characteristics and the reasons for them. Generally, that's it - no further analysis or treatment, though you may want a progress report after a few years. An EPs report (especially one from an EP known to the school) is a most marvellous lever in your dealings with a school: 'He did this, because you did that - as you should have expected, because it says so here'. Closest thing in this world to the Elder Wand.
Helping the child who is struggling at school
The type of school and provision that you should look for will depend very much on your child's abilities and on the extent to which their disability affects their learning. Look at the extent to which your child's disability is affecting their progress: you want a school that happily talks of success with pupils who face similar challenges. Consider your child's innate ability, their hobbies and interests: a mainstream school should be doing well by non-SEN children with the same skills.
Typically SEN children will need additional or special assistance or consideration to put them on a level playing field with their peers.
For some, equality can be achieved by relatively simple measures: having a scribe or being given extra-time in exams; for others, even specialist equipment and many-to-one teaching will not make life equable.
A good school for children with learning differences is likely to:
teach a child one thing twenty ways (if required), not twenty things one way;
understand the learning processes and work diagnostically, closely monitoring, recording and reviewing progress and using that as a catalyst for further learning;
use multi-sensory learning and teaching styles;
understand that when a child's needs are not being met and seek to address those shortcomings;
actively assist with access arrangements;
work with parents/carers to agree suitable strategies for the child;
have some specialist help on hand;
listen to parents and act on their concerns.
Choose your school with care, don't assume any school with a good special needs department will be perfect.
Timely (and possibly individual) intervention is great but will only be really effective if set against a backdrop of understanding across all teaching and support staff.
A sympathetic Special Needs Coordinator (SENCo) is a great starting point, but the head's attitude to special needs will have a pervasive influence on the school, if they are cautious you should be wary.
A child doesn't abandon their difficulties when they leave the learning support department.
A dyslexic child may well have a very high verbal and/or non-verbal IQ yet struggle to read, scan, write or spell. If a child has poor memory or processing difficulties these will, if left unattended, impact on their overall progress and subsequent self-esteem. Dyslexia may be mainly associated with reading and writing, but it affects more than just English lessons: the writing and sequencing demands of history can be a problem, similarly the multi-tasking of many sports can create difficulties for the dyslexic and/or the dyspraxic child if the coaching style is not empathetic; a child with Aspergers may be desperate to join-in activities and to mix with others but need support and reassurance to do so - not just in the classroom but on the sports pitch in the playground and beyond.
We feature all 30,000 UK schools on this website and have reviewed a number of good special schools and mainstream schools with good SEN departments. We have a number of features to help you decide the right school for our child. If a school appears perfect, but doesn't mention their SEN provision get in touch and find out how they would be prepared to help – you may be surprised by the response. State schools have statutory obligations - and you may well be able to make a case for your child to attend the school and for suitable provision to be put in place.
Types of SEN - A comprehensive overview of key conditions that give rise to SEN.
SEN First Steps - A look at what to do if you think your child has special educational needs.
SEN Professional Help - useful information on the various SEN professionals who can provide assistance in and out of the classroom
Seeking a school:
The Good Schools Guide - Special Educational Needs 2008 - Edited by Sandra Hutchinson. The helpful, informative and caring guide to special needs and schools. School reviews in the 2008 guide are out of date. Subscribe online for the latest reviews.
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