About special educational needs and disabilities

Learn more about special educational needs and disabilities in children and young people and our inclusive education service.

Children and young people with special educational needs have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn than most children and young people of the same age. These children and young people may need extra or different help from that given to others. Many children and young people will have special educational needs of some kind at some time during their education. Often these needs can be met through high quality teaching and short-term additional support, but some children and young people will need extra help for some or all of their time in education and training. 

Does my child have special educational needs?

Children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities will usually be able to get help from their setting, school, or college, sometimes with the help of outside specialists. If they do identify that your child has SEN, the school or setting must contact you and should discuss what support to offer your child.  They must tell you if they are making special educational provision.

If you think that your child has SEN, you should talk to your child’s school or setting. They will discuss any concerns you have, tell you what they think and explain to you what will happen next. This will usually start with a detailed assessment of your child’s needs, with an increased focus on these as part of high quality classroom teaching by their teacher(s). They may also receive additional small group, or even individual, intervention sessions.

Your child’s progress will be reviewed and a meeting should be held to discuss this with you.  At this point, it may be decided that your child has special educational needs.  If this is the case their school or setting will usually then formally identify them as needing SEN support.

Our 'Does my child have special education needs' page has more information.


Your child might also have a long-term disability which has a substantial adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities. Schools and settings have a legal responsibility to make reasonable adjustments, including the provision of auxiliary aid services so that they are not disadvantaged compared with their peers.

There are four categories of special educational need, according to the SEND code of practice.

Cognition and learning

If you are concerned because your child doesn’t seem to be learning as well as you would expect, it’s a good idea to talk to your health visitor, nursery or school teacher. They will be able to talk about how your child is in a different environment, and whether they share your concerns. If they agree that your child is learning at a slower pace than others, they will know how to access extra support and advice. 

Cognition and learning difficulties cover a wide range of needs, including moderate learning difficulties (MLD) and severe learning difficulties (SLD), where CYP are likely to need support in all areas of the curriculum and associated difficulties with mobility and communication through to profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), where CYP are likely to have severe and complex learning difficulties as well as a physical disability or sensory impairment. 

It also covers specific learning difficulties (SpLD). SpLD can affect one or more specific aspects of learning. It encompasses a range of conditions such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia (known as Developmental Coordination Disorder).

All the specialist teachers from the cognition and learning team, part of the inclusion support service, provide advice, support and training to those who deliver education and training to children and young people with cognition and learning difficulties in the 0 to 25 years age range.

This advice and support includes working with school and setting staff teams to enable the development of their own provision through:

  • modelling assessments;
  • signposting to appropriate resources and evidence based interventions;
  • carrying out further assessment of the child or young person’s specific needs and strengths;
  • curriculum differentiation and personalised learning; 
  • modification and structuring of the learning environment and differentiation of the curriculum; 
  • the physical, emotional, behavioural and educational implications of specific learning difficulties; 
  • professional development for mainstream staff, including accredited training; 
  • minor adaptations, specialist equipment and alternative ways of addressing the needs of young people with specific learning difficulties; and
  • a person-centred approach to managing transitions. 

They will liaise directly with parents to share information about their child or young person.

The specialist cognition and learning teachers also work effectively in partnership other professionals, such as specialist teachers from other teams, educational psychologists and health professionals. This is part of the inclusion support service, and the normal way to access this service is for the teacher or SENCO at your child's school to make a referral. Schools can also purchase training through North Yorkshire Education Services.

Communication and interaction

Some communication difficulties show early in life, and it is important to get advice and support early if you can. Some communication difficulties are harder to spot until the young person is older and can describe their difficulties and needs. It is never too late to seek help. 

Children with communication and interaction needs may have difficulty in expressing themselves, in understanding language, and with interacting with others and the world around them. 

If your child is in nursery or goes to a childminder, or goes to school, then they are the best people to talk to first.

  • Nurseries or childminders will be monitoring your child’s communication skills using the foundation stage curriculum, and will be able to advise you how to help their language skills develop.
  • Schools will plan how to support your child's language needs, agree some targets with you, and let you know how they plan to meet them. They will also consider how they will measure that progress.

They will set targets for your child to work towards, and describe how they will do that, and how you can monitor their progress together.

Talking Point is a site run by the children's communication charity I CAN. It offers ideas on how to help your child, advice on typical speech and language development, and when to get help.

If your child needs more support than this, the lead professional who assesses children’s communication needs is the speech and language therapist. To find out how best to access one locally to you, speak to your GP, school, health visitor or nursery; but parents can also refer directly.  

You can follow the links below to access referral information in your local area.

When you see the therapist they will need to talk to you about your concerns, and will try to watch your child playing and talking. Don’t worry if they don’t feel like talking, the therapist will be quite used to it!  The therapist may give you some ideas to try and then ask to see you again in a little while to see how it is going, or they may recommend some direct therapy, maybe at clinic, or at nursery or school.

For children under 3, your therapist or health visitor might recommend your child attends a language group at the children's centre, maybe Small Talk or Building Blocks for language. These groups are for children who need some help to catch up with their talking, and are lots of fun. If your child’s nursery or childminder would like some help to support your child better, they might ask for one of our specialist teachers to support them. They will help the nursery to plan to meet your child’s needs, and incorporate language targets into their session with them. Nurseries can also offer language groups within the session for children who need them- the specialist teachers can help them to do that if they need it.

Many children with disabilities or developmental delay experience difficulties in perceiving and making sense of the world.  This might lead to challenging behaviour, or a difficulty in concentrating or listening.

The Autism Education Trust also offers information and resources to support planning in this area. 

If you are concerned about your child’s sensory integration skills then in the first instance talk to their school/nursery. They may, in turn, wish to seek advice from inclusive education specialist teachers or an occupational therapist. The normal way to access this service is for the teacher or SENCo at your child’s school to make a referral via the single point of access process. Schools are also able to purchase training through North Yorkshire Education Services.


If you suspect your child is autistic, then, as this is a medical diagnosis, you should talk to your GP, who can refer on for assessments. You should also talk to school/your EY setting, to get their view on their needs. Even without a diagnosis, school can work with you to assess needs, set targets and intervene. School can also ask for support from our specialist teaching team if they need advice or training, and this can be done for children with or without a diagnosis. 

Sometimes autism is difficult to spot, and can be masked as emotional or anxiety issues, especially in older students and often in girls. Seeking advice will help you and the young person understand themselves better and what they need to be happy and achieve their potential.

  • If your child has a diagnosis of autism, then their school/nursery will be able to use the reports from the diagnostic team to help them set targets and meet their needs. You will also be offered a Cygnet course for support as a family.
  • If you need more support as a family then you can contact the prevention service. They bring together staff from different services with a wide range of expertise to help families get the help they need, as soon as they need it. 
  • Another useful source of information is the Autism Education Trust. This partnership organisation is funded and supported by the Department for Education and hosted on behalf of the partnership by the National Autistic Society. The AET focuses on improving the education of children and young people with autism from the voluntary, public and private sectors. It also actively engages with young people, parents and carers and practitioners to inform its work. The AET is funded by its contracts and grants from the government and income from its training and materials. We are an Autism Education Trust strategic partner- we work with the AET to develop their programme and are licensed to deliver their training.
  • The National Autistic Society is the leading UK charity for autistic people (including those with Asperger syndrome) and their families.

Social, emotional and mental health difficulties

Sometimes children may experience difficulties in mental health and emotional wellbeing. These needs may show themselves as challenging behaviour, clear distress or be well hidden. Social, emotional and mental health is an overarching term used to describe actions that promote resilience and wellbeing as well as describing children who demonstrate difficulties with emotional regulation or social interaction or are experiencing mental health conditions.

If you need information right now or to speak to someone, you can find out about our services including Compass Buzz and Compass Reach, CAMHS and the crisis line here.


If you have concerns about your young child’s social and emotional development then you should talk to your health visitor, your nursery key worker or SENCO, childminder or your GP. All that may be needed is some extra support in nursery or childminder, but they may ask our Early Years advisory team for further advice and guidance around supporting your child.

They might also suggest a referral to the paediatrician or a speech and language assessment or an occupational therapy assessment. These assessments are usually done through observation a non-threatening environment such as the home, nursery or a specially designed play room and the professionals are likely to ask you about the concerns you have. All this would provide information on how best to help your child. 

School-age children

If you have concerns around your child’s social and emotional mental health, first discuss these with your child’s school to see if there is any additional support or advice they can give. There are a number of different avenues for support, and the best place to start is usually via their school teacher or SENCO. However, if you want to know how to refer yourself to another agency, or to find out more about what they might be able to do to help, you can contact them directly.

You can find out more about our services for emotional wellbeing and mental health for children and young people here.

We also offer healthy choices, a 12 week programme for 5-19 year olds, working with the whole family delivering fun and interactive sessions on a whole range of different topics around nutrition, food, health and lifestyle. 

Our inclusion support service offers support to schools in making appropriate provision for your child.

You might also like to think about contacting our prevention team. The role of this team is to support families in the home, and we offer a range of services from drop-in sessions to 1:1 support.

The Personal, Social, Health Education PSHE curriculum (although non –statutory at present) in school should continue to support your child’s Social and Emotional wellbeing throughout their time in school.  

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)

Personal, social and emotional development (PSED) is possibly the most important of the prime areas of learning in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). This is the age at which children learn the skills they need to become actively involved in the world around them.

  • Personal development is about how children come to understand who they are and what they can do.
  • Social development covers how children come to understand themselves in relation to others, how they make friends, understand the rules of society and behave towards others.
  • Emotional development concerns how children understand their own and others’ feelings and develop their ability to be empathetic – to see things from another person’s point of view.

In the EYFS, personal, social and emotional development includes three aspects of children’s learning and development:

  • making relationships
  • managing feelings and behaviour
  • self-confidence and self-awareness.

The key stage 1 (5 – 7 years) curriculum should  include:

  • teaching pupils to learn about themselves as developing individuals and as members of their communities building on their own experiences and on the early learning goals for personal, social and emotional development;
  • supporting the learning of basic rules and skills for keeping themselves healthy and safe and for behaving well;
  • providing opportunities to show that they can take some responsibility for themselves and their environment;
  • learning about their own and other people's feelings and becoming aware of the views, needs and rights of other children and older people; and
  • as members of a class and school community learning social skills, such as how to share, take turns, play, help others, resolve simple arguments and resist bullying. 

The key stage 2 (8 – 11 years) curriculum should include:

  • teaching pupils to learn about themselves as growing and changing individuals with their own experiences and ideas, and as members of their communities. Encouraging them to become more mature, independent and self-confident;
  • learning about the wider world and the interdependence of communities within it;
  • supporting the development of their sense of social justice and moral responsibility and guiding pupils to understand that their own choices and behaviour can affect local, national or global issues and political and social institutions;
  • supporting pupils on their journey as they begin to develop into young adults, to face the changes of puberty and transfer to secondary school with support and encouragement from their school;
  • supporting pupils in making confident and informed choices about their health and environment; and
  • encouraging pupils to take more responsibility, individually and as a group, for their own learning; and to resist bullying.

The secondary school curriculum should include:

Personal identities

  • making judgements about their personal qualities, skills and achievements and using these to set future goals;
  • presenting themselves confidently and responding positively to praise and criticism; and
  • explaining how changes in personal circumstances may affect their feelings and behaviour, and how they can manage such situations effectively.

Healthy lifestyles

  • describing the short and long-term consequences of personal health choices, including choices relating to sexual activity and substance use and misuse and make decisions based on this knowledge;
  • identifying some of the causes and symptoms of mental and emotional ill health, and identify strategies for recognising, preventing and addressing these in themselves and others;
  • demonstrating confidence in finding professional health advice and help others to do so; and
  • identifying reasons why people might use illegal drugs and explain how drug use can impact on physical, mental and economic aspects of people’s lives, relationships and the wider community.


  • evaluating the potential risks and benefits of personal lifestyle choices including their impact on relationships; and
  • recognising that risk assessment and management are part of life and give examples of how to manage and reduce risk in different circumstances.


  • developing appropriate relationships with a widening range of adults in a variety of contexts;
  • explaining the importance of different relationships and associated responsibilities, including the significance of marriage, stable relationships, civil partnerships, and long term commitments; and
  • describing some of the possible effects of family and other significant events on feelings, emotions and personal wellbeing, and the impact these may have on relationships.


  • explaining how differing cultures, faiths and beliefs may influence lifestyle choices, and demonstrate respect for these differences; and
  • taking the initiative in challenging or giving support in connection with offensive or abusive behaviour.

Schools are judged by OFSTED in relation to how they effectively support the personal development, behaviour and welfare of children and young people.

Sensory and/or physical needs

If your child has visual and/or hearing impairments, or a physical need that means they must have additional ongoing support and equipment.

The sensory, physical and medical team (SPM team) provide support and advice for schools and settings around their inclusion of children and young people with hearing impairments, visual impairments and physical disabilities/medical needs.

The team supports children and young people who meet our criteria for involvement. We use criteria based on that produced by the national sensory impairment partnership (NatSIP).

Vision Hearing Physical and medical
When children and young people have at best 6/18 sight when corrected and/or moderate to severe loss of field. When children and young people have been diagnosed with a hearing loss and have been prescribed hearing aids, including cochlear implants.
When children and young people have long term physical disabilities and/or enduring medical conditions which significantly impact on their access to the educational environment/curriculum.

The support we provide varies from child to child and can include:

  • specialist assessment to inform effective inclusive practice;
  • practical support and advice;
  • direct teaching of specialist skills;
  • advice or support during transition;
  • advice on appropriate specialist resources;
  • advice on, and loan of, specialist equipment;
  • multi-agency liaison; or
  • training for all staff and agencies involved and the wider children's workforce.

For children who have difficulties in school, or with attending school, there are various options available including specialist support for the school, education in hospital or part-time timetables.

You can ask your GP for a hearing test, from which they will make a clinical decision about referring to an audiologist. A visit to an audiologist will determine if a referral to our team is appropriate. We need formal confirmation of a hearing impairment from the medical profession. We can also give advice and support over the phone to schools and settings who have children and young people with minor / temporary hearing loss.

Some signs and symptoms that your child may have hearing problems are:

  • pain in ear – ear infections;
  • TV turned up loudly;
  • not responding as you would expect;
  • missing word endings;
  • speech difficulties/delay – incomplete/word approximations;
  • looking at the mouth of the speaker;
  • shouting – raised voice when speaking;
  • asking for repetition –“what?”;
  • dreamy and distracted;
  • moving closer to speaker;
  • school work being affected;
  • displaying poor behaviour;
  • not following instructions;
  • school expressing concern - suggesting child is not hearing & listening – is being a selective listener;
  • appear to hear better on some days than others; or
  • reduced vocabulary.

Your optician may prescribe glasses, or your GP may refer your child on to ophthalmology for further assessment and possible treatment. If so, ask them if a referral to our vision support team is appropriate. There is no lower age limit for our involvement. A school/health visitor or parent can also directly refer a child to us if they are concerned.

Some signs and symptoms that your child may have difficulties with their vision are

  • headaches;
  • changes in vision;
  • bumping or tripping;
  • discomfort in eyes;
  • unusual appearance of eyes;
  • bringing text close to eyes;
  • not seeing as well in different light conditions; or
  • school expressing concern about vision.

Some physical disabilities are apparent at a child’s birth, while others might be acquired due to an accident or injury. There are also physical disabilities which become apparent as a child gets a little older.

Have you noticed that their walking pattern is unsteady or do they have difficulties holding and manipulating objects which you would expect a child of their age to be able to do?  Has your child reached their developmental milestones? If you have concerns about your child’s fine or gross motor skills, or their mobility, you should speak to your health visitor or to your GP.  

There are a wide variety of medical conditions which may or may not have visible symptoms. If you are concerned about your child’s health you should speak to your health visitor or GP.

Further information

The Department for Education has published a guide for parents and carers. This guides parents through the different parts of the SEN code of practice.