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 SEN 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. 

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

Cognition and learning

If your child learns at a slower pace than others their age, has difficulty in understanding parts of the curriculum, has difficulties with organisation and memory skills, or has a specific difficulty affecting one particular part of their learning performance such as in literacy or numeracy.

Support for cognition and learning difficulties may be required when children and young people (CYP) learn at a slower pace than their peers, even with appropriate differentiation. 

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 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/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; 
  • a person-centred approach to managing transitions. 

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

The specialist teachers from Cognition and Learning also work effectively in partnership other professionals, such as specialist teachers from other teams, educational psychologists and health professionals. Schools can make referrals to the cognition and learning team and are able to purchase training through North Yorkshire Education Services.

Communication and interaction

If your child has speech, language and communication difficulties which make it difficult for them to make sense of language or to understand how to communicate effectively and appropriately with others.

Are they under 5?

If your child is in an EY setting (nursery or childminder) then they are the best people to talk to first. They will be monitoring your child’s communication skills using the EY foundation stage curriculum, and will be able to advise you how to help their language skills develop. 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.

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, Health visitor or nursery; but parents can also refer directly.  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.

Have a look at www.talkingpoint.org.uk for lots of ideas on how to help your child, advice on typical speech and language development, and when to get help.

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


For children under 3, your therapist or health visitor might recommend your child attends a language group at the Childrens 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 EY setting (nursery or childminder) would like some help to support your child better, they might ask for one of NYCC’s specialist teachers to support. 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.

Are they over 5?

The first thing to do is to talk to your child’s school to see how your child communicates there. They 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.  If your child’s school would like some help to support your child better, they might ask for one of NYCC’s specialist teachers to support. They will help the school to plan to meet your child’s needs, and incorporate language targets into their day. They can also offer training to schools who need to develop skills in this area.

If your child needs more support than this, then the lead professional who assesses children’s communication needs is the Speech and Language Therapist. For children over 5 your child’s school will help you to get in touch with one. Alternatively you can ask your GP to refer you. 
Have a look at www.talkingpoint.org.uk for lots of ideas on how to help your child, advice on typical speech and language development, and when to get help.

The therapist will talk to your child, you and your child’s teacher, to find out what their strengths and needs are. They may also do some assessments, and will then advise on what your child needs in order to make progress in their talking. 

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


Does your child have autism?

If you suspect your child has autism, 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. 

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. 

Find out more about autism at the Autism Education Trust or at Autism.org.

Does your child have sensory processing needs?

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. There are a range of publications which give recommendations to address these needs, including NYCC Supporting Pupils with Sensory Processing Needs (2014), (LINK) which gives examples and guidance on approaches and interventions. These strategies can be carried out by parents, teachers, TAs at school.

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 IES specialist teachers or an OT.

Social, emotional and mental health difficulties

If your child has difficulty in managing their relationships with other people, are withdrawn, or if they behave in ways that may hinder their and other children’s learning, or that have an impact on their health and wellbeing.

There are many definitions associated with mental health and emotional wellbeing.  Social Emotional and Mental Health is an overarching term to capture action that seeks to promote resilience and wellbeing as well as describing children who demonstrate difficulties with emotional regulation and/or social interaction or are experiencing mental health conditions.

Are you concerned about your young child’s social, emotional and mental health?

The social, emotional and mental health needs of children and young people is everyone’s business and many different people will be involved in supporting you and your family with the social and emotional development of your child.

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.

If you have concerns about your child’s social and emotional development then this should be discussed with your Health Visitor, your nursery key worker/SENCO or childminder or your GP.  If these professionals share your concerns then they can refer to our Early Years advisory team for further advice and guidance around supporting your child in Nursery and or at home through Portage.  They might suggest 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.

Are you concerned about your school aged child’s social, emotional and mental health?

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.  

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. 
  • As members of a class and school community they should learn social skills, such as how to share, take turns, play, help others, resolve simple arguments and resist bullying. 

At 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. 
  • Support pupils in making confident and informed choices about their health and environment; 
  • Encourage pupils to take more responsibility, individually and as a group, for their own learning; and to resist bullying.

Secondary school curriculum

At secondary schools, the PSHE curriculum should support the following:

Personal identities

  • make judgements about their personal qualities, skills and achievements and use these to set future goals.
  • present themselves confidently and respond positively to praise and criticism.
  • explain how changes in personal circumstances may affect their feelings and behaviour, and how they can manage such situations effectively.

Healthy lifestyles

  • describe 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.
  • identify 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.
  • demonstrate confidence in finding professional health advice and help others to do so.
  • identify 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.


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


  • develop appropriate relationships with a widening range of adults in a variety of contexts.
  • explain the importance of different relationships and associated responsibilities, including the significance of marriage, stable relationships, civil partnerships, and long term commitments.
  • describe 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.


  • explain how differing cultures, faiths and beliefs may influence lifestyle choices, and demonstrate respect for these differences.
  • take 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.

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 addition support they can provide.  They can access support from Compass Buzz, The Healthy Child Service, and from the Inclusive Education Service to support them in making appropriate provision for you child in school.  

If your child’s mental health remains a concern then some young people might require some intervention from Compass Reach or specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). 

You may also wish to consider a referral to the local authority prevention service, to support your child and family.

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:

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 hearingloss 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
  • Training for all staff and agencies involved and the wider children's workforce


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.

Does my child have special educational needs?

Children and young people with SEN or disabilities will usually be able to get help from their setting, school, or college, sometimes with the help of outside specialists. This is often where SEN are first identified.

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.

SEN support

Once your child’s special educational needs have been identified and it has been decided that they need SEN support, their school or setting will put in place regular cycles of the graduated approach. You should have the opportunity to be involved in review and planning meetings at least three times a year, and should receive copies of individualised planning documents as well as summaries of meetings.

What the school will do

The school will:

  • Assess his or her needs
  • Plan what additional and different support or intervention is necessary
  • Do - deliver this additional support and/or intervention
  • Review - decide on the impact of this and what needs to happen next

Questions you might want to ask:

  • Why do you think my child has SEN or a disability?
  • How do you know that my child doesn’t have SEN or a disability?
  • What happens now?
  • What extra support is available to support my child?
  • How can we help as a family?
  • When and how will we review progress and SEN provision?
  • Who can support me?

The SENCo at your child’s school or setting should usually be your main point of contact for discussions about their special educational needs, the additional support they need and the progress this leads to.

You can also contact the SEND information and advice service (SENDIASS) for impartial information, advice and support.

Charities and other organisations also offer advice and support.

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.