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The SEN system may be in a state of flux but don't let bureaucracy prevent you seeking help for your child.

It's thought that approximately 20 per cent of children have special needs at some point during their school life.

Many parents remain uncertain as to whether their child has an SEN or just a difficulty that they'll outgrow.

Some SENs are obvious - physical disabilities or gross misbehaviour from an early age - others are not.

So what should you look out for?

Symptoms of special educational needs

Most children will experience some of these to a lesser or greater extent but, if you can count off more than two or three, it may be time to think about enlisting some extra help. 

  1. A lack of pleasure in (or avoidance of) reading.
  2. Problems with writing, messy presentation indecipherable paintings.
  3. Clumsiness - bumping into things, poor spatial awareness and perhaps an inability to hop or to jump properly. 
  4. Not enjoying school. 
  5. Disorganisation - late settling to work, last to pack-up. 
  6. Being easily distracted. 
  7. Generating distraction. 
  8. Reluctance to do homework. 
  9. Not getting on with other children - perhaps avoiding social contact altogether.
  10. Not thriving at school.

Unless your school tests every child, (and some now screen all children on entry - worries about future litigation abound) some children will be missed.

A special educational need or a passing phase?

Not all children with special needs are readily identified. Some develop coping strategies to mask their difficulties - children can use common sense, quick-wittedness, intelligence and other virtues (or vices) to disguise the effects of an SEN. Later particularly when public exams loom and youngsters are openly 'measured' against their peers, they may lack self-esteem and become increasingly anxious.

We have come across cases where severe dyslexia has been diagnosed in mid A level when the adaptability finally ran out.

Bright but undiagnosed severe dyslexics have even made it to Oxbridge. Others may have, for example, a hearing loss that has not been identified and they may be considered naughty, a fidget, a daydreamer - symptoms of everyday childhood, but also ones that can conceal underlying special needs. Parents know their children well - so don't feel, just because nobody else has said anything, that 'it's just you'.

When should I ask for my child to be helped?

You don't have to have a formal diagnosis to request help for your child. If you suspect your child has a 'learning difference' or difficulty, or you're just worried, seek advice - your child's class teacher, 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.



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