The terms SEN and SEND are used often. Here we discuss what they mean, considering ‘neurodiverse’ and ‘neurotypical’ brains along with the 4 broad areas of needs.
What does SEN or SEND really mean?
For parents who have children in school or who are just looking into taking on the mantle of homeschooling, there’s a great deal to learn, and it can feel overwhelming, more so when it comes to technical language.
If your child has been given the label “SEN” or “SEND” by the school, you may be wondering what exactly it is and what it will mean for your child throughout their education and into their adulthood. In very simple terms, SEN stands for Special Educational Needs. In contrast, SEND means Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. While it may feel like SEN and SEND are the same thing, and there are many times where SEN and SEND are used interchangeably, this is not right.
The key difference is that SEND is for children (and adults) who have specific disabilities, whether or not they have special educational needs. It is common for children with disabilities to have extra educational needs, but not all disabled children fit into the SEN category.
Does SEN always mean the child has disabilities?
This is a tricky topic to explain in one article, but no, SEN does not always mean disabilities. However, many of the special educational needs that students have may also be classed as a disability, even though it doesn’t fit into our traditional perceptions of what a ‘disability’ is.
To be classed as having a disability, there must be a significant and long-term impact on the day-to-day life of the person concerned. Where the needle falls is very different for each person, but there are many disabilities recognised by the Equalities Act 2010 that fall into the SEN category.
Learning disabilities, like dyslexia, are counted as disabilities because the impacts of dyslexia are recognised across a child’s life and even into adulthood. Traditionally, this has been seen as a negative, but there are many outspoken advocates for people with learning difficulties, which is changing perceptions and changing the language.
The phrase ‘learning difficulty’ is being replaced with ‘learning difference’ in some educational settings because it’s more descriptive of disabilities like dyslexia.
What is classed as SEN in a school setting?
In an educational setting like school, homeschool, or tutoring, SEN can cover a wide variety of educational difficulties or differences.
It’s important to note that a difference and a difficulty are not always the same thing. When students are assessed for special educational needs, it’s vital to find out how they learn and how they can be assisted to learn. For parents and educators alike, this can be the difference between education being ‘difficult’ and education being ‘different’.
Some examples of special educational needs currently recognised in UK schools and tutoring include:
Neurodiverse and neurotypical brains
If your child has been diagnosed with one special educational need, there is a high chance that they may also qualify for a diagnosis for other needs too. For example, those children who are diagnosed with ADHD are more than 60% likely to also be diagnosed with ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder). There is also a good chance that the child may also be living with a specific learning difficulty too, the most common being dyslexia.
The reason why children are at higher risk of having two or more medical conditions is not currently very well established in medical literature. However, it seems to be the difference between neurotypical and neurodivergent brains. Neurotypical brains are what we don’t like to call ‘normal’ brains (in truth, no one is ‘normal’) – they would be the people in the class who react to stimuli in the way in which we’d expect them to. They are usually able to regulate their emotions and their attention more easily.
Neurodiverse, or neurodivergent, brains are the rest of the children in the class. It’s not simply a case of neurodivergent being the opposite to neurotypicals, but there are key differences that make teaching neurodivergent students more challenging for some (and more interesting for others!).
How teaching / tutoring SEN students is different
SEN students require a different teaching / tutoring approach from your average student and, in most cases, they will need a different lifestyle approach too, to help them reach their full potential.
It’s vital that both parents and educators learn to understand the different learning styles so as to adapt lessons and home life to the needs of the child in front of them rather than the ‘typical’ child. This is not easy for a standard classroom teacher to do, but as homeschooling parents and tutors, we can offer our children the very best opportunities to learn by adjusting lessons and learning time to suit their needs and their abilities.
It is important to note that many students with SEN are not ‘unable’ to do their work. In fact, many are just as intelligent on a cognitive scale, and some even more so than their neurotypical peers. It’s just a case of finding out how they learn so that we can best embrace that.
A dyslexic student example
Take a dyslexic student, for example. Traditionally, dyslexic students have found reading difficult. For a long time, it was thought that the actual act of reading was hard for dyslexics, but after years of research, it was discovered that many dyslexics suffer from Meares–Irlen Syndrome, a condition that affects the processing of words on a page.
Black decorated letters (even serif fonts like Times New Roman) on a white page can be very challenging, but the simple act of changing the font to a sans-serif font and changing the background colour to one the child is comfortable with can make a world of difference. Equally, learning with phonics and the Latin roots to words has been shown to really improve the spelling issues many dyslexic students face, allowing them to work out the spelling from logical theory.
Many dyslexic students are much better at processing images and auditory learning and, as tutors, we can use this to our advantage by using video and audiobooks to help the child access learning.
With both the language and processing difficulties of the average dyslexic student, simple changes in the way we approach learning can mean the difference between a child who is chronically undermotivated and has low self-esteem, and a child who is supported with their learning, their abilities, and has access to materials in a way that works for them.
For all SEN students, there is a way to help them learn. While schools may prefer to go down the route of trying to make them learn the school way, as tutors, we prefer to take the approach of helping the student to find their own way of learning and using that to get the best out of them.
The four broad areas of SEN
When thinking about SEN from an educational aspect, there are four main areas that educators will consider. These areas are the parts of a child’s life that will be impacted the most by their specific learning differences and educational need. They include:
In broad terms, all students will have some kind of special educational need or requirement. All children and all people are different; we have different interests and different strengths. When we do the work to recognise those strengths and work with them, we can have a big impact on both our lives and the lives of our students.
What has been your experience embracing the way your child learns to help them achieve?
We would love to hear about it on our Facebook page. Alternatively, feel free to get in touch with us to speak to one of our education specialists and find out how an experienced Bright Heart special needs tutor could help embrace your child’s unique learning style.
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