About Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)

A mini-guide for parents and carers to the four types of special educational needs (SEN).

Children and young people with special educational needs have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it more difficult for them to learn than other children of the same age.

They 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.

Four types of special educational need

Cognition and learning (C and L)

Your child may:

  • learn at a slower pace than others their age
  • find it difficult to understanding some lessons or subjects
  • struggle with organisation and memory skills
  • have a specific difficulty affecting one particular part of their learning performance such as in literacy or numeracy

Communication and interaction (C and I)

Your child may:

  • find it difficult to understand and process language
  • struggle with the use of spoken language or nonverbal communication
  • have difficulties with social interaction
  • have speech sound difficulties

Social, emotional and mental health difficulties (SEMH)

Your child may:

  • find it difficult to understand and manage their own feelings
  • feel withdrawn or unhappy
  • struggle to manage relationships with others
  • find it challenging to follow instructions
  • may struggle with my behaviour

Sensory and/or physical needs

Your child may have a:

  • hearing loss ranging from mild to profound
  • visual impairment ranging from mild to profound
  • multi-sensory impairment of both hearing and visual loss
  • sensory processing difficulty
  • physical difficulty that requires additional ongoing support and equipment


Your child might have a long-term disability, which has an effect on their ability to carry out typical day-to-day activities.

Schools and settings have a responsibility to make appropriate changes for learners and staff who have a disability.

This means that they should adapt the environment as well as their policy and practice so that your child is not disadvantaged.

Does my child have special educational needs?

If you think that your child has special educational needs or a disability, you should talk to your child’s school or setting first, they will be able to discuss concerns with you, let you know what they think and also help explain what will happen next.

They may suggest that you visit your GP to explore further, suggest referral to a therapy service such as Speech and Language Therapy, and share resources and information that will help.

Often Special Educational Needs are first identified by the school or setting, who must then contact you to discuss any concerns about your child’s needs. They must also tell you if they make special educational provision for your child.

The first step of identification of additional needs should be a detailed assessment of your child’s needs, with an initial focus on how these can be met as part of high-quality classroom teaching.

Your child may also receive additional small group, or even individual intervention or support.

Your child’s progress will be reviewed and a meeting should be held to discuss this with you. If he or she is still not making progress it may be decided to formally identify them as needing special educational needs support.