What are Special Educational Needs (SEN)?

Some children have needs or disabilities that affect their ability to learn. For example:

  • behavioural/social (eg difficulty making friends)
  • reading and writing (eg dyslexia)
  • understanding things
  • concentrating (eg Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
  • physical needs or impairments

Who to talk to if your child has special educational needs

If you think your child may have special educational needs, contact the person in your child’s school or nursery responsible for special educational needs. In the UK, this person is called the ‘SEN coordinator’, or ‘SENCO’.

(Courtesy British Government website, Gov.uk)

1.     Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD)

Specific Learning Difficulties (or SpLDs), affect the way information is learned and processed. They are neurological (rather than psychological), usually run in families and occur independently of intelligence. They can have significant impact on education and learning and on the acquisition of literacy skills.

SpLD is an umbrella term used to cover a range of frequently co-occurring difficulties, more commonly:

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity disorder (A.D.D/A.D.H.D.)
Auditory Processing Disorder.

SpLDs can also co-occur with difficulties on the autistic spectrum such as Asperger Syndrome.

Be aware that similar terminology can lead to confusion. For example, the term ‘Learning Difficulties’ is generally applied to people with global (as opposed to specific) difficulties, indicating an overall impairment of intellect and function. In general, a student may be diagnosed with a SpLD where there is a lack of achievement at age and ability level, or a large discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability.

(Courtesy of the British Dyslexia Association)

Editor’s Note: Specific Learning Difficulties is used more widely in the UK and Ireland, whereas Learning Disability is more common in the USA for the same range of difficulties.