I think my child has special educational needs

What are special educational needs?

Many children and young people have special educational needs (SEN) at some point during their education. A child or young person has SEN if they have a learning difficulty or disability that calls for special educational support or equipment to be provided for him or her.

Communicating by sign language
Learning disabilities

Learning disability is a general term that refers to individuals who find it harder to learn, understand and communicate than most other children their own age. Other terms used to describe an individual's situation include complex needs, high support needs and intellectual disability. 

Although autism is not a learning disability, around half of autistic people may also have a learning disability.

Read more about autism

Physical disabilities

A physical disability is a physical or mental impairment, which has a long-term (a year or more) and substantial adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

There are many physical disabilities that affect children. It may be obvious, such as loss of a limb, a less obvious physical disability, such as asthma, diabetes or epilepsy or sensory impairment, such as those that affect sight and hearing.

What this means for your child

Children with SEN may have difficulties with:

  • expressing themselves, understanding what others are saying and managing their relationships (communicating and interacting)
  • organisation, understanding instructions, memory, concentrating, reading, writing and number work, following rules and instructions (cognition and learning)
  • making friends or getting on with others (social, emotional and mental health difficulties)
  • learning because of a medical condition (sensory and/or physical needs)

For some children, this need may only be short term, which can be met through the expertise and resources of their child's school or early years setting, or with advice and support from outside professionals and organisations. A small number of children, who struggle to progress despite this support, will need a higher level of support. 

Page last updated: 17 Mar 2023