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Spotlight on: Special Educational Needs

Is your child just feeling the new year lull or is there a deeper issue you’re missing? LIVING investigates.

Going back to school after a long period is never easy and after the last 12 months it’s no wonder! Education has been affected hugely and with routines being disrupted, now suddenly it is back to reality with a bump. But if your child is miserable and anxious for other reasons there could be something more serious going on.

If you have serious concerns that something isn’t quite right, then you’re not alone and realising that your child has a learning need is more common than you think. The experts say it is vital that those needs are identified early so adequate support can be given. Children who are left without help can find their behaviour affected as they struggle to keep up with work or feel increasingly frustrated without fully understanding why. It’s no surprise that children with special educational needs can experience higher rates of permanent exclusion from school.

So where do you go and what do you do first?

Don’t worry – The most important thing is not to worry about bothering people. You know your child better than anyone else and if instinct is telling you something isn’t quite right then don’t be afraid of talking to someone about it. Teachers will usually be happy to listen to any concerns you have and as they spend a large amount of time with your child in the classroom, they are well-equipped to keep a watchful eye.

Schools also have special educational needs co-ordinators who are trained to work with pupils, so they are also worth approaching for help. They will know exactly how to spot the signs and can advise you on what to do next.

Talk to your child – Talking about any worries or concerns your child has may help to identify any special needs but remember to tread carefully and be patient. Overloading them with questions may make them clam up and refuse to speak so keep questioning light and general to begin with. Try to keep calm as much as possible so the child has complete confidence that whatever they say will not result in anger, and always offer encouragement and praise where possible.

Work with the school – Children will have the best chance if parents are prepared to work with the school and share any ideas with staff. Teachers see the child in a different environment from home so any insights parents can share will be helpful. The flipside of that, of course, is that teachers can also offer their knowledge and experience. Keep the school up to date with how your child behaves at home, any changes in health or with personal family circumstances and difficulties with homework.
Spotting the signs – If you’re unsure if your child has a special educational need, what sort of things should you be looking out for? Your child’s behaviour might be the first giveaway that something is amiss. If they are behaving badly at school or at home, or alternatively becoming withdrawn it could be an indicator. But there are more specific signs to look for with certain conditions.

Autism – affects how a person interacts with the world around them. There are different levels and types of autism, which means symptoms are wide-ranging, and greatly differ from person to person. Symptoms usually involve difficulties with communication, awkward interactions with other people, repetitive behaviour, and difficulty understanding or processing information.

Dyslexia – Dyslexia is a learning disorder, which affects an individual’s ability to read and write correctly. Patients often have trouble understanding how letters relate to words and sounds. They can have problems forming words, which in turn can affect their ability to read. They may try to avoid reading and certainly reading aloud in the classroom.

ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a behavioural disorder that includes symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Symptoms tend to include a short attention span, being easily distracted, being unable to stick to tasks, listen or carry out instructions and appearing forgetful or losing things. Such problems can lead to underachievement in school, poor social interaction with other children and discipline problems.

Hearing impairment – Hearing loss can occur at any age so it is important to be aware if you believe your child might have a problem. If your child has difficulty understanding what people are saying, speaks differently, doesn’t reply when their name is called, turns up the TV volume and has speech or language delays, it is possible they could have issues with their hearing. Also, look out for complaints about earache or if they watch other people’s faces intently while they are talking, which may show they are trying to follow what the person is saying.

Sight impairment – can also cause learning difficulties. If your child has trouble reading or doing other close-up work, squints or frowns or rubs their eyes a lot, it might be worth visiting the opticians. Ask the child if they are finding things blurry or hard to see, whether their eyes are itchy or scratchy. If they complain about headaches, dizziness or feeling sick after doing close-up work, it could be the sign of a sight problem.

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