How to get help for your child if you suspect they may have learning differences
Here Nuala Dalton, SENCo at Burlington House School, London, outlines some of the potential signs of learning differences in children and what actions to take if you think your child might have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.
I think my child might have SEND issues. What do I do?
It is important for parents to share information with the school about the issues you see at home and what concerns you are having. By talking to your child’s class teacher or the school’s SENCo, they will be able to give you an indication of your child’s strengths and needs within the classroom too. They may advise that your child is formally assessed by an educational psychologist.
Contact your local council for support if your child is not in a school or nursery.
What are the signs of a child with SEND?
A child with SEND may present with varying needs which are greater than and different from those of their peers.
Though each child’s unique needs may present differently, there may be some broad themes. Young children may struggle to keep up with the age-related expectations being placed upon them as they enter school - expectations linked to independence, toileting, or dressing themselves for example. And for older children, it might be challenges around academic progress, organisation, memory or social difficulties.
How do I know they are not just being ‘naughty’?
Each child’s experience of navigating through school with a learning difference will be unique to them, but many share feelings of hopelessness or failure, which can lead to low self esteem and self confidence.
A child with SEND may try to avoid tasks that they find difficult and may try to distract attention from themselves by talking about something else or leaving the area, maybe even trying to distract others. Usually any noticeable behaviour or actions like this can be identified as a need.
Do I have to get a diagnosis? I am concerned my child will be seen differently and don’t want the label?
You do not have to get a diagnosis but it can help the child to understand that they are not ‘deficient’, rather that they think differently and so need to learn and approach tasks differently. Having a diagnosis can also help to ensure that your child has the right level of support around them. It can also help you, as parents, to understand your child’s needs better and to support and nurture those needs at home.
Can the GP help?
Yes, a GP can refer your child for an assessment, particularly where there may be medical concerns as well.
What are the four key areas of SEND?
Communication and Interaction:
Children and young people with C&I difficulties may have speech, language and communication needs which lead to difficulties in communicating with others. They may find it hard to understand what is being said/asked of them, or having difficulty in expressing themselves appropriately.
Cognition and Learning
Cognition and learning difficulties may affect a child or young person’s ability to learn in traditional ways and to make progress at school. Cognition and Learning difficulties include a range of conditions from dyslexia and dyscalculia to dyspraxia and ADHD. Often children and young people with SpLDs have more than one area of difficulty. This is referred to as co-morbidity.
Social, Emotional and Mental health
Children and young people with social emotional and mental health needs may present as withdrawn, anxious or lacking concentration. They may be immature in relation to their peers, or have challenging behaviours. SEMH is a broad term and is usually indicative of challenges arising from other, unmet specialist needs.
Physical and sensory needs usually relate to physical disabilities or visual or hearing impairments. Children with P/S needs may need specialist equipment and support for daily tasks.
Ms Dalton has taught English and ICT for over 20 years. She has been involved in SEN education for 6 years prior to joining Burlington House School. Ms Dalton has taught in local, national and international settings and always embraces new challenges.