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Caring for children with special educational needs

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Caring for children with special educational needs (SEN) is a broad subject encompassing many situations.  It can be a challenge for both the child and their teachers.  It also requires much work from parents, carers and other professionals involved in their education.  SEN aims to ensure that children with disabilities or medical conditions get the support they need.  So that they can engage in learning activities that are appropriate for their age and ability level.  Here we look at some strategies you can use when working with and caring for children with special educational needs.  Including how best to identify them early on, prioritising their needs within your classroom, what support services are out there and what happens if things don’t go according to plan!

  1. Early identification of special educational needs

The term ‘special educational needs’ can be divided into two categories: those with complex learning difficulties or disabilities (including autism) and those with an impairment or medical condition that affects their education (such as dyslexia).  Those with complex needs will generally need intensive support from specialist teachers in schools or at home.  Whilst the others will usually attend mainstream schools and be given additional support.  However, these definitions are not set in stone; many children fall between these categories and could benefit from being taught alongside others with similar needs.

Early identification is essential.  Parents and professionals must work together to identify problems that can lead to long-term difficulties.  The benefits of early identification include the following:

  • The child gets the proper support early, which can help them develop skills they will need later in life.
  • Problems are prevented from worsening, making it easier for support staff to manage them.
  • A child’s confidence may be increased if they feel their needs are being met sooner rather than later.
  1. Prioritise their needs

When caring for children with special educational needs, it’s vital that you understand their disability and how to work with their needs.  Find ways to motivate, offer visual support and give simple, clear instructions to help them.

  • Prioritise the child’s needs.  The level of additional support available to children with Special Educational Needs depends on their individual needs and circumstances.
  • What is the priority?  It’s important to know the priority and a child’s specific needs so that you can best meet them.  As with anything else in life, understanding the details will help make things easier for everyone involved.
  • What are the needs of the child’s guardians?  You can help guardians and their families understand how best to support the child at home.  You should all work towards a common goal, so feedback and regular reviews are essential.
  • What are the school’s needs?  If you support a child in a mainstream school, there should be an education plan and a statement of special educational needs.  This should also include progress reviews.  You should also review the statement every year so that it can be updated as necessary.
  • What are the child’s strengths and weaknesses?  Try to understand what a child struggles with and help them build confidence by supporting them in this area.  Make use of their strengths and try to apply these strengths to other areas of their learning.
  1. Special Educational Needs (SEN) support

As a carer of a child with special educational needs, it’s essential that you know your rights and responsibilities.  You have the right to ask for support from other professionals (e.g., speech and language therapists) and change your mind about what support is needed at any time.  You also have the right to say no if the child’s parent disagrees with your decision.

Don’t be afraid to change your mind – It might seem simple but don’t feel bad about changing things either!  Maybe what worked last week doesn’t work today so adjust accordingly by adding/removing specific tasks.  This will keep everyone healthy mentally while being flexible enough so there won’t be any significant breakdowns later.

  1. Statements and Education, Health and Care plans for children with special educational needs

A statement of special educational needs outlines any additional requirements and what those needs are called under the law.  It describes a child’s level of need and the provision that will meet it.  It also includes information about how the child’s needs can be met at home or in school and any other services they may receive.

An EHC plan is a document that outlines the support and services that are needed to help a child learn, develop and grow up happy.  This can include anything from speech therapy to access to specialist equipment.  For example, assistive technology – things like text-to-speech software- allows people with hearing impairments or dyslexia to read more easily.  It could also be something as simple as a keyboard with raised keys so children with motor difficulties can type without needing much force on their fingers.  Other professional support may be required, like speech therapists for those with communication problems, occupational therapists for physical difficulties, and psychologists or counsellors for emotional difficulties.

  1. When things go wrong

When things go wrong, it’s important to keep communication channels open and work out a plan of action.  You may need to meet with your child’s guardians more often than you would typically or have more frequent meetings with other professionals or local authorities.

It’s also important to be flexible during this time and not get too stressed about it all – if something isn’t working out as planned, then don’t worry!  There will be plenty of opportunities when everything has settled down again.  The most important thing here is ensuring everyone stays happy throughout this process.  Make sure everyone is involved at every stage.

Tips to get things right when caring for children with special educational needs

If you’re working with a child with special educational needs, here are some tips to get things right.

  • Plan but don’t be afraid to make changes and refocus; you should have a plan for when a child becomes frustrated.
  • Give short, clear instructions with actions, leaving a longer processing time than you would normally.
  • Use visual aids: pictures to support stories, a timetable, critical communication symbols (e.g., toilet, drink), or sign language.
  • Praise effort and use a form of motivation, such as a reward chart.
  • Give breaks as often as the child needs.
  • Observe and learn how a child reacts to different sensory elements, what frustrates them and how they communicate with others.
  • Physical prompting during games and art activities.
  • Don’t rush; prepare for extra time or resources (or both), so they can appropriately complete their work.
  • Ensure the child-to-adult ratio is correct – this depends on their needs.
  • Communicate and regularly review with all those involved in the child’s education.
  • Engage in their uniqueness and ask them questions. There is no template for all children with special educational needs, so ask them questions to keep them interested and engaged.

Conclusion

Caring for children with special educational needs can be challenging and stressful, but it’s also gratifying!  The critical thing is to keep things positive and focus on what you can do to help them learn.

If you are interested in working with children who need additional support, take a look at our latest roles or get in touch with our team to discuss how we can help you find a rewarding career in childcare.

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