What do we mean by Special Needs?

What Does Children's "Special Needs" Mean?

From the point of view of Schools and the Department of Education, children require special educational provision if they:

  • Have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children their age
  • Have a disability which either prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided in schools
  • Are under the age of five years and are likely to fall within either of the above sections when over that age (if special educational provision were not made for them)
  • Are over two years of age and receive educational provision which is additional to, or different from, provision made generally for children of the same age in local schools
  • Are under the age of two years and receive educational provision of any kind.
These are the definitions from the Education Act 1996 and Disability Discrimination Act 1995 which are subject to regular Government changes.

What Are The Most Common Types of Special Needs in Children?

The high level information below summarises each of the main types of special needs, how that impacts learning and where to find more detailed information. 

  • ADHD
  • Autism
  • Asperger Syndrome
  • Hearing impairment
  • Behaviour emotional and social difficulties
  • Celebral Palsy
  • Speech language and communication
  • Visually impairment
  • Physical impairment.
If your child has a friend with a disability or special need and you would like to find out more about it or cater for their needs at your house the best thing to do is to talk to the class teacher or child’s parent/carers. They will be able to help you support the child and cater for their needs in a safe environment; they will also appreciate the effort on your behalf.

ADHD in Children

This stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Children diagnosed in their childhood often continue to show symptons of ADHD in adulthood (30% to 50% of those diagnosed). ADHD is more common in boys.

The main characteristics are: poor attention span, poor short-term memory, inattentiveness, impulsiveness, over reaction to an extent that is unwarranted for the child's developmental age and is a significant hindrance to their social and educational success, inflexibility (ADHD children like their structure), heightened activity and;low frustration threshold.

Children with ADHD can sometimes be aggressive and can get out of control, becoming a danger to themselves and others. The most important thing here is of course safety.

Some children with ADHD;may be on medication. This medication stimulates the brain, and whilst it is not a cure for ADHD it can support the child’s education. Medication temporally calms a child down, so that they can access teaching, increase their social interaction and therefore learn more. The most common medication for children with ADHD is Ritalin; whilst this calms a child down it may often wear off towards the afternoon. 


Autism in Children

Autism is often described as a spectrum disorder as it affects people in many different ways and to varying degrees. For this reason, autism is also;known as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

A person with autism described it as: “a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them. Children and adults with autism are unable to relate to others in a meaningful way. Their ability to develop friendships is impaired as is their capacity to understand other people’s feelings. People with autism can often have accompanying learning disabilities but everyone with the condition shares a difficulty in making sense of the world….. Reality to an autistic person is a confusing, interacting mass of events, people, places, sounds, and sights. There seems to be no clear boundaries, order or meaning to anything. A large part of my life is spent just trying to work out the pattern behind everything”.

The difficulties experienced in autism are sometimes known as the triad of impairments: social communication, social interaction and imagination. Children and adults with autism have difficulty to varying degrees on these three areas.

Asperger Syndrome in Children

Asperger Syndrome is a type of autism. Whilst there are similarities with autism, people with Asperger’s have fewer difficulties with speaking and often have an average or above average IQ. 


Hearing Impairment in Children

Hearing impairment levels and impact on a child's learning vary considerably child to child. Otherwise known as deafness, hearing impairment can be mild to severe.

Like other impairments, deafness can impact on a child’s self-esteem, learning and behaviour and children may give up in class more easily because they can’t hear properly.

Some children have impairment from birth; for others, it will have developed suddenly or over a period of time.Hearing impairment can improve and for some children, medical treatments, for example Cochlear implants may offer improvement.


Behaviour Emotional and Social Difficulties in Children

Behaviour Emotional and Social Difficulties are also known as BESD.

There are different levels of BESD, caused by a mixture of different things including poor role models, disadvantaged circumstances at home, specific disorders with a physical cause or as a consequence of other needs, medication or treatment, inappropriate teaching methods or poor self-esteem.

Children with BESD needs are troubled children whose emotional state leads them into negative behaviour. These children tend to be more comfortable with structure and behaviour often deteriorates on Mondays and Fridays.

For these children aspects such as, turn taking, sharing, social skills and circle time are very important.


Cerebral Palsy in Children

Cerebral Palsy is a broad term, the symptons are varied and include:

  • Involuntary movements or spasms
  • Muscle contraction that results in inflexibility and, therefore, movement problems
  • Poor balance or coordination
  • Speech, hearing, or visual impairments.

Some children with Cerebral Palsy have learning difficulties whereas others are high achievers. Teachers, tutors and parents need to adapt teaching methods and each child has different needs. 


Speech, Language and Communication in Children

Children with speech, language and communication needs have difficulty being understood by others.  In some children, language is the only difficulty they have, whereas for other children their speech, language and communication needs are part of another condition. 

The severity of symptons can range from mild to severe and these difficulties can have a huge impact on many aspects of children and young people’s lives, inside and outside of school.

It is important to remember that just because a child has a speech difficulty doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t know the answer: they just have trouble communicating it. This can be very frustrating for the child and tutors, teachers and parents may need patience and coaching skills to help the child learn more effectively.


 Visual Impairment in Children

The smallest group of children with special educational needs are the visually impaired.  There is a very wide range of levels of visual impairment of whom a small proportion are totally blind.

The vast majority of children with a visual impairment have relatively good residual vision and attend mainstream schools. Every child's educational needs differ though as the impact their visual impairment has on them can be completely different.

Visually impaired children may  need special equipment and / or adapted instructional procedures and materials from tutors, teachers and parents.


Physical Impairment in Children

This is a broad term which covers all physical impairments regardless of their cause (birth trauma, as a result of an accident, a side effect following an illness, a genetic condition, etc.)

A child with a physical impairment may often rely on devices or mobility aids to help them, such as, crutches, canes, wheelchairs and artificial limbs. Other children have non-visible physical disabilities, for example, respiratory disorders or epilepsy.


Other Children's Special Education Needs

The above needs are not a definitive list of all the special educational needs out there. This list is just a very brief outline of the most common types of special needs found in mainstream schools.

For more information, visit the helpful links below:

Addiss: The National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service.

Living With ADHD: Website is for parents, carers and teachers, also providing resources for children and teenagers themselves.
Autism.org.uk: Leading UK charity for people with Autism, including Asperger Syndrome.
SEBDA:  Useful information and advice for children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.
Scope: Help and information resources on Cerebral Palsy.
Talkingpoint: Useful information and advice on children's communication.
National Blind Children's Association: Source to help children with visual difficulties.



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