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A guide to SEN

An Introduction to Special Educational Needs for Parents

The following is a brief introduction to help explain and clarify what is meant by Special Education Needs. It is based on the system in the UK, though much will be relevant to parents and their children in other countries.

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What is a Special Education Need?

Many children find learning difficult at times. For some children these difficulties require schools to provide additional help and activities. Through assessments and observations schools identify specific areas that a child finds difficult. This information is used to decide how best to support the child. This is the child’s special educational need or needs. Sometimes a child may be identified as having a Special Educational Need before attending school. This could be at nursery, by a health visitor or by parents raising concerns with their GP.

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What is normal development?

All children develop at different rates. This is easy to see in an attribute such as height but more difficult in an attribute such as speech. All child care professionals will work on what is known as normal rates of development. This is what is expected for the majority of children at a given age. In other words, what the average child is like. With all averages there will be some children who are above average and some children who are below. Sometimes child care professionals will use specific milestones or benchmarks to describe a behaviour or attribute that the average child should reach at a given age.

For groups of pre-school children, those in nurseries and the first few years of school there will be a very wide range of development demonstrated. Very little differences in the ages of the children can be significant. In schools the academic year runs from September to August. This means that the children born during the summer months are very often much less developed than those born at the beginning of the year. This would mean that if you had two children developing exactly as expected for their age but they were born at opposite ends of the academic year there would be a significant difference between them. After a few years at school the age differences between children in the same year group become much less significant.

Because normal development varies so greatly, caution should always be taken when comparing children. There are very many factors as well as age that influence rates of normal development such as gender, genetics, diet, sleep and life experiences. Each child will develop at a rate which is the result of all the influencing factors in his or her life.

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How will I know if my child has a Special Education Need?

Children are identified as having Special Educational Needs by professionals working with the child. For the vast majority of children this will be at school by their class teacher and the school’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator. The school will inform you if they decide that your child has additional needs. For pre-school children, the child’s health visitor or nursery staff may sometimes identify a need. Rarely, where children are under the care of a paediatrician, the doctor may suggest that a child’s long term health condition or disability will require additional educational support.

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What do I do if I think my child has Special Educational Needs?

Parents who are concerned about their child should speak to a professional familiar with their child. For pre-school children this will be the health visitor, nursery staff or occasionally your family doctor. For school aged children parents should speak to the class teacher or the school's Special Needs Coordinator (SENCO).

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My child has been put on the Inclusion Register. What is this?

Schools and Nurseries are required to keep a list of children who have been identified as having Special Education Needs. This is to ensure that these pupils have their needs monitored. In maintained schools this data is often used by the local authority in making decisions about the services and funding they provide to schools.

Parents know their child best. Professionals have experience of lots of children. It is only by working together that a true understanding of the needs of the child can be assessed.

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You may also be interested in the following pages:

Assessment Resources

Summer Born Children

Working Memory

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