Education has become a fundamental right for children across the Western world – so much
so that it is accessible through both the state and private sectors. However, it is not as straightforward as providing literacy and numeracy skills. It also includes the idea of making some form of education accessible to all children regardless of their race, gender, or needs.
Children with special educational needs have a right to as much learning as any child, but the means and methods provided to achieve this goal vary greatly.
What are Special Educational Needs?
Special educational needs (SEN) is a term used to describe children who have a learning difficulty which prevents them from learning and progressing in line with their peers. As referred to in the SEN and Disability Code of Practice – January 2015, DfE and Dept of Health.
Children may have conditions such as autism, Downs syndrome, moderate to severe learning difficulties or physical disabilities, the latter of which may also affect their learning. The SEN and Disability Code of Practice 0-25 years (revised, 2015) enshrines in law an alternative or adjusted curriculum that will educate children with these varying needs and help them gain skills that will allow them to effectively participate in the working world. Special education needs go beyond the curriculum. It is more than just administering a lesson plan to a group of children and making sure that they achieve good test results. SEN must cater to a variety of needs and abilities, and often many of your pupils will be attending to learn underpinning social and communication skills through interaction with others.
Learning difficulties require more thought than a mainstream curriculum which is subject-specific. While you may be expected to teach special needs children within a literacy and
numeracy-based structure, you will also be expected to know the ways to adjust this curriculum to each child’s individual needs. You will be dealing with a variety and range of
learning needs, and you will be required to understand each of these differences so that you are able to fulfill your job in the best way possible – teaching your class.
It is also essential for you to note that although each learning difficulty may have certain characteristics, the individual must be at the heart of your teaching.
SEN refers to children whose needs cannot be met within the mainstream classroom and
therefore need a more individualised and targeted curriculum to address pupils’ areas
Students’ abilities can vary and encompass sensory impairments such as deafness or blindness. In the case of sensory impairments, it may be that educational adjustments are made to provide access to the curriculum, e.g. the use of braille or sign language interpreters.
Learning Difficulties at a Glance
While there are many kinds of learning difficulties that you may encounter in the classroom, this course will focus on some of the most common types that you may find. They include
autism, attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, and dyspraxia. However, it is encouraged that you familiarise yourself with the many other kinds of learning difficulties that are not
described in this article to ensure that you are a well-informed professional. You must be prepared to educate all members of the classroom, regardless of their learning
difficulties and differences.
Indeed, under the SEN Code of Practice, every classroom teacher is responsible for addressing the special needs of his/her students, regardless of whether they are specialists
in this area. The law instructs that all teachers should make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act in order to meet the individual needs of those whom they teach.
Autism (which now also encompasses Asperger’s Syndrome and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA)) is a syndrome people are born with. The National Autistic Society estimates that over 1 in 100 people are autistic. Autism is a life-long condition
that cannot be cured. It is characterised by a strong difficulty in forming relationships and communicating with other people. An individual with autism may also have
difficulty in using language, as well as forming and understanding abstract concepts. An autistic person may also show physical signs of repetitive activities and may need
routines. It is important to note that this condition has a very large spectrum. Someone can display ‘mild’, ‘moderate’ or ‘severe’ symptoms, although scientists have struggled to
accurately define what these terms mean, such is the complexity of the autism spectrum. However, they can indicate the level at which an autistic person is affected by their condition. Asperger’s Syndrome, which is now accepted within the definition of autism, sits within the higher functioning scale. Autism can be detected at a very young age, and early intervention is said to be essential to help autistic people manage their condition.
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a medical or neurobiological condition that shows an imbalance or dysfunction of neurochemical pathways in the brain. In the absence of proper identification, followed by treatment and management, this condition can have serious complications or consequences later in life. It is genetic and long-term, but, with proper medication and therapy, can be reduced in severity. Symptoms of this condition include inattentiveness (exemplified by an ease of distraction, a lot of task changing) and impulsiveness (for example, by talking over others and a difficulty with focus, working memory, and concentration). In the case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the list of symptoms would also include hyperactivity.
Dyslexia is a learning difficulty involving the ability to match sounds to letters and it is characterised by difficulties with phonological awareness, verbal memory, and
verbal processing speed. Dyslexia can affect reading, writing, and/or spelling. A trained dyslexia assessor or educational psychologist is needed to make a diagnosis. It is believed
that 1 in 10 people in Britain may be dyslexic.
Dyspraxia, a form of developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is a common life-long condition affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults. It may also affect speech.
Varying strengths and weaknesses in all children with SEN mean that you may need to make adjustments to the mainstream curriculum or – for those with more severe needs – you may
need to create or identify an accredited qualification at a lower level. Your responsibility is to help SEN children progress and learn at their pace. They will need an individual
learning plan (ILP), like any other student. This will help you identify their personal, social, and educational objectives. Above all, SEN children, like all children, are individuals whom you have a responsibility to teach and develop as individuals, both on a social and an academic level. It is likely that they will need specific help with literacy and numeracy and you should adapt all your teaching to favour ‘bite-size’ teaching, ‘one-at-a-time’ tasks, that
includes ‘thinking time’, and multisensory teaching methods.
Teaching strategies that work for children with special needs work for all children.
Varying Sensory Needs of SEN Students
One thing that you should come to understand, especially if you are new to this field, is that each student’s sensory needs are different. What does this mean exactly? It depends on the child and his or her varying needs. For example, some autistic children will exemplify an intense rocking or other repetitive movements that many people can find distracting. However, these children make these movements because they find them soothing and they put them at ease from the discomfort or anxiety. Additionally, certain sounds that may seem fine for
us can cause distress for somebody with enhanced sensory difficulties. Understanding this can help you create or adjust their surroundings to bring them more comfort and safety
because these motions can often be signs of the student’s discomfort within the environment or because of personal issues. Be sure to communicate with the student how they are
feeling at all times because what you may perceive may not actually be the case.