Learning disabilities: education

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If your child has a learning disability, their special educational needs can be met either in a mainstream school with extra support, or in a special school.

There are guidelines, outlined in the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice, for how schools should assess and meet special educational needs (SEN) to ensure that your child gets the right support. The guidelines apply to places that are provided by the state (state-funded), including nurseries, playgroups and schools. The Directgov website has more information about SEN. The Department for Education site has information about the SEN Code of Practice.

Providing the right support for children at school depends on their needs. Not every child with SEN will have a learning disability, but all children with a learning disability will have special educational needs.

Identifying special educational needs

Some learning disabilities are diagnosed at birth, others later on. Most are evident by the age of three. “This is partly because we see speech and communication established in most children by the time they're three years old, so any problems start to become noticeable,” says Lesley Campbell of learning disability charity Mencap.

Every child’s special educational needs are different, depending on what kind of difficulties they have and how serious these are. If you’re worried about your child’s progress or development at school or nursery, talk to their teacher or the Special Educational Needs co-ordinator (SENCO).

The SENCO can spend some time with your child to work out what kind of extra support they might need. For example, a different way of teaching or having another adult in the classroom.

If your child doesn’t progress with this extra support, the SENCO can organise help from outside the nursery or school, such as a speech and language therapist.

If your child is younger than four and doesn’t go to nursery, you can contact your local council’s special educational needs department. Find contact details for your local authority. You can also talk to your doctor or health visitor if you have concerns.

Communicate with your child’s teachers

Getting involved with your child's school will help them get the support they need. “Keep track of your child’s learning, arrange regular meetings with their school and make sure you’re following their schoolwork,” says Campbell.

Let the school know what’s going on at home. “Tell the school what your priorities are for your child and how he or she is doing at home, so that the school can be building on this.”

Help your child learn

There are things you can do at home to help your child. "Being very clear in your communication, getting face-to-face with your child, and giving one-stage rather than two-stage instructions all help," says Campbell.

"Reduce the clutter in a child's life. Give them two or three toys to play with at a time, rather than 13." Find out more about helping your child learn.

Getting a statement

If a mainstream school isn’t meeting your child’s needs, you or the school can ask the local authority for a formal assessment of your child’s special educational needs. If the authority agrees to this, and decides that your child needs more support than a mainstream school can provide, it will produce a statement of special educational needs (often just called a statement). Find out more about asking for an assessment.

Help for parents and carers

Below are some sources of information and help:



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