What is a disability?
A disability is described in law (Equality Act 2010) as:
'A physical or mental impairment which has a long-term and substantial adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.'
Not all children and young people with a disability have SEN but often there is an overlap.
What is special educational need (SEN)?
SEN is a legal term and is defined in the SEND Code of Practice as:
a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made... A child of compulsory school age or a young person has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age, or, has a disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions
Children’s SEN are generally thought of in the following four broad areas of need and support:
- communication and interaction
- cognition and learning
- social, emotional and mental health
- sensory and/or physical needs
Communication and interaction
Children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) have difficulty in communicating with others. This may be because they have difficulty saying what they want to, understanding what is being said to them or they do not understand or use social rules of communication. The profile for every child with SLCN is different and their needs may change over time. They may have difficulty with one, some or all of the different aspects of speech, language or social communication at different times of their lives. Children and young people with ASD, including Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism, are likely to have particular difficulties with social interaction. They may also experience difficulties with language, communication and imagination, which can impact on how they relate to others.
Cognition and learning
Support for learning difficulties may be required when children and young people learn at a slower pace than their peers, even with appropriate differentiation. Learning difficulties cover a wide range of needs, including moderate learning difficulties (MLD), severe learning difficulties (SLD), where children 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 children are likely to have severe and complex learning difficulties as well as a physical disability or sensory impairment. Specific learning difficulties (SpLD), affect one or more specific aspects of learning. This encompasses a range of conditions such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia.
Many people across the world have difficulties acquiring the ability to read and write, regardless of the languages they speak. The proportion of people with English language reading difficulties involving decoding print is thought to be between 5-10%1. This figure may be higher with some estimating it as 20% of the population, although this depends on the criteria used to define the level of difficulty. Difficulty with literacy skills makes it more challenging to participate fully in modern life.
There is widespread agreement amongst researchers that difficulties with literacy, particularly reading difficulties, can be present amongst people across the full range of intellectual abilities. Research has indicated that reading and / or writing difficulties often occurs within families and, in many cases, have a genetic basis. Read our 'Guidelines for Literacy Difficulties' to find out more about the most recent research into literacy difficulties and our guidelines on providing support.
Social, emotional and mental health difficulties
Children and young people may experience a wide range of social and emotional difficulties which manifest themselves in many ways. These may include becoming withdrawn or isolated, as well as displaying challenging, disruptive or disturbing behaviour. These behaviours may reflect underlying mental health difficulties such as anxiety or depression, self-harming, substance misuse, eating disorders or physical symptoms that are medically unexplained. Other children and young people may have disorders such as attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder or attachment disorder. Schools and colleges should have clear processes to support children and young people, including how they will manage the effect of any disruptive behaviour so it does not adversely affect other pupils. The Department for Education publishes guidance on managing pupils’ mental health and behaviour difficulties in schools.
Sensory and/or physical needs
Some children and young people require special educational provision because they have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of the educational facilities generally provided. These difficulties can be age related and may fluctuate over time. Many children and young people with vision impairment (VI), hearing impairment (HI) or a multi-sensory impairment (MSI) will require specialist support and/or equipment to access their learning, or habilitation support. Children and young people with an MSI have a combination of vision and hearing difficulties. Information on how to provide services for deafblind children and young people is available through the Social Care for Deafblind Children and Adults guidance published by the Department of Health. Some children and young people with a physical disability (PD) require additional ongoing support and equipment to access all the opportunities available to their peers.