The most recent statistics show that anywhere between 10-15% of a population may be defined as having special educational needs. Special educational needs may be viewed as a diagnosed difficulty or disability affecting a student which means that they will require additional support in order to fulfil their potential. The level of support they require will depend on the nature of the SEN. Irrespective of a child‟s difficulty, once they are a member of our school, we have an obligation, mandated by legislation (The Education for persons with Special Educational Needs Act, 2004), to ensure that they are supported through having their learning differences accommodated. It should be our goal to be as inclusive a school as possible. Each teacher is responsible for the educational progress of each student in their teaching groups, and may be asked to contribute to Educational Plans where appropriate.
Studies have found that teachers have the most profound impact on the learning chances of students: our attitudes and teaching methods make all the difference in ensuring that each student benefits from education and is given as many options as possible for their future.
The following is a basic introduction to the area of SEN, to act as a resource for staff. General pointers include:
- Being aware of the exact nature of a child‟s difficulty and needs- and how this affects their learning within a mainstream class
- using aids where appropriate
- allowing extra time to complete tasks
- accepting alternative ways of completing and accessing tasks
- collaboration with the LS/SEN team
- differentiating work where necessary
- facilitating RACE recommendations where possible
- and having definite expectations for the student that are realistic- not lowered
Remember that for further information on any of these topics, feel free to consult a member of the LS/SEN:
Key terms explained
DES-Department of Education and Science
SEN- Special educational need- must be officially diagnosed by an appropriate professional, whether the need is intellectual, physical, genetic or emotional.
Resource – the DES has decided that certain SENs need more intensive support in order to enable students to access the curriculum. These students are:”…entitled to all the necessary supports and resources required to provide a child with an appropriate education. “Based on their weighted system, the school is an awarded additional hour of „resource teaching‟ which is provided to particular students, normally in a withdrawal setting. This support may be provided by a member of the LS/SEN team, or a mainstream teacher who is assigned to the Student Support Team by the principal. During this time, it is expected that the student(s) will receive intensive educational support, and that records will be kept as part of the student‟s Educational Plan.
The categories of special educational needs entitled to Resource support, according to the DES are:
- Physical Disability
- Hearing Impairment
- Visual Impairment
- Emotional Disturbance and/or Behavioural Problems
- Borderline General Learning Disability
- Mild General Learning Disability
- Moderate General Learning Disability
- Severe/Profound General Learning Disability
- Autism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders
- Specific Learning Disability
- Specific Speech and Language Disorder
- Children with Special Educational Needs Arising from an Assessed Syndrome
- Multiple Disabilities
- Exceptional Ability/Giftedness
LS – refers to learning support; some students are not entitled to Resource support, but still require additional learning support, generally in the areas of literacy and/ or numeracy. This support is awarded to students (at the school’s discretion) based on :
- Information provided by the National schools
- At a parent/guardian‟s request
- The screening tests completed by the students prior to enrolment
- Names submitted on the information sheet given to all staff at the start of the academic year
- Recommendation by any of their teachers- names may be submitted at any stage during the academic year to a member of the LS/SEN team. If there is any question about a student’s performance, it is better to check it out, so please feel free to refer them. Parental permission must be obtained before diagnostic tests can be administered.
- Student Support Team- mainstream teachers assigned by the Principal to deliver additional teaching to students in receipt of Resource support.
Differentiation -children with special educational needs may require teaching and /or assessment adaptations in order to help them access the curriculum and achieve their potential. The nature of the adaptations depends on the nature of the SEN
Differentiation may be described as matching the work expected from students with their ability, with regards to the work set for them and the assessment of same. There are some basic recommendations included with the explanation of each particular SEN. In general, it has been found that all students benefit from a variety of teaching methods being deployed, such as using cloze tests, peer tutoring, marking for content, using IT, accepting homework on tape/typed homework, being aware of and utilizing RACE accommodations where possible, building on existing knowledge, having real life applications of knowledge, etc. For further ideas and recommendations, check out the NCCA’s website, which has a very good section entitled Assessment for Learning. Go to www.ncca.ie for further details.
RACE – Reasonable Accommodations in the Certified Examinations.
Based on strict criteria provided by the DES, some students qualify for certain concessions during the state exams. These concessions are provided in order to ensure that the student‟s SEN does not stop them from achieving their potential. It is not about giving them an advantage over their peers, but about levelling the playing field for them. The concessions are awarded based on the school‟s recommendation at Junior Certificate, but must be cleared by the DES assigned educational psychologist at Leaving Certificate level.
The most common concessions are spelling and grammar exemptions for students with dyslexia; certain students are entitled to use assistive technology such as laptop; some may tape their answers or have a scribe write for them, some may be awarded extra time; some need the questions read for them, and certain students require their own centre based on a diagnosis of ADD/ADDHD, etc.
The school bases its requests on recommendations made in a student‟s official educational report. Where possible, it is considered best practice to encourage the student to get some practice in the awarded mode.
Education Plan – students in receipt of resource support require planned specific programmes of intervention, which can be monitored and reviewed. These plans are individually designed to tailor for the specific needs of the student, encompassing their starting points of strengths and weaknesses, what they need to achieve- and when this will be done. Everything in the plan must be measurable; that is the goals must be specific and tangible. It is important the teachers are aware of the targets set, and work towards them.
There is a definite link between target setting and using differentiation which should help the student. The principal has primary responsibility for ensuring that the education plan is complied and carried out, but may designate the responsibility for this to a member of staff. This member of staff is not expected to work in isolation, given that a student may have multiple needs, stretching across the curriculum.
The plan is expected to by cross –curricular, and as such, depending on the student‟s needs, many of the student‟s subjects may be asked to contribute goals and be part of the monitoring and reviewing process. At the very least, it is expected that the plan would be reviewed annually.
Assessment Protocols – Information on students may be provided in the form of an official assessment, carried out by a suitably qualified professional. Students with certain physical/genetic difficulties are nearly always identified before they reach second level, as are many of the students with more severe SENs. At second level, if we suspect that a student is experiencing difficulties, the DES recommends that we follow a staged model of intervention, and attempt to support the student with LS, while continuing to monitor their progress. We have on site a variety of tests that the LS/SEN team may administer in order to try to discover the nature of the difficulty.
If this provides insufficient information, the student may then be referred to the designated DES educational psychologist, who will investigate further. Parental permission must be obtained before a child may be tested, or sent for referral. In other cases, where the difficulty appears to be more behaviourally based in nature, the school recommends that the parent/guardian contacts their GP and asks for a referral to the Child and Family Services.
SNA- Special Needs Assistant.
The SNA is a key support member of staff, ideally placed to collaborate with the different subject teachers and the LS/SEN team. Their primary task is to support the student(s) with special educational needs, whether the child has mobility needs, organizational requirements, social needs etc. The subject teacher should provide the SNA with a sense of direction and work closely with them. The teacher is primarily responsible for designing the lesson content, the SNA then helps the student(s) with the content task, written work, organization, delivery etc- whatever is required.
Special Educational Needs – Basic Details
SLD -specific learning disability/ difficulty. These children tend to be of average ability, but have a significant gap between their ability and performance in a specific area, such as spelling, comprehension, decoding skills etc without an obvious cause. There are various characteristics associated with an SLD, such as:
- poor handwriting and/or awkward pen grip
- delays in acquiring language
- difficulty in copying from the board
- mixing up letters-especially b/d, p/q
- mixing up left and right
- recalling information
- organizational skills
- being able to verbally discuss a topic, but unable to write about it
- problems with reading for meaning
- difficulties with the language of Maths
- difficulty with foreign languages
- “unique” spelling etc.
Children with Dyslexia are often described as having an SLD with regard to literacy. It can cause quite a bit of frustration for the student, as most of the second level curriculum requires a certain level of literacy skills. With support and appropriate teaching and assessment procedures, students with dyslexia are capable of achieving their potential.
Some recommendations for supporting the student with an SLD include:
- marking for content and not penalizing for spelling/ grammatical errors
- over teach key ideas, formulae
- check understanding through discussion, not just through written tests
- provide clear instructions on how to plan a task
- help with getting key information from a text-perhaps by encouraging the student to use a highlighter
- providing handouts where possible, as copying large amounts of print from the board may lead to confusion
- visual aids such as mind maps may be beneficial
IT/multimedia approaches have been found to be very successful for students with an SLD.
It is considered to be demoralizing for the student with an SLD to be asked to read aloud in class, so avoid unless the child volunteers.
Depending on the extent of the SLD- and the report recommendations- in State exams (through RACE), some students will avail of a spelling and grammar exemption, some will have the option of using assistive technology; having their questions read for them; having a scribe; tape recording their answers.
Dyspraxia – a difficulty with motor co-ordination, sometimes described as clumsy child syndrome. Only an Occupational Therapist can make this diagnosis. They may have difficulty with:
- spatial awareness
- speech problems
- poor posture
- may appear behaviorally immature
- The child with Dyspraxia tends to find a variety of tasks which require good co-ordination difficult, such as copying from the board; writing at pace
- copying diagrams, models; working with equipment/ machinery/lab materials
- throwing and catching things
They may be frequently disorganized and appear to be „awkward‟ and/or anxious, easily upset.
Often their books, copies, workbooks are untidy, illegible, crumpled, lost.
Many of the support suggestions which are offered for students with an SLD are appropriate for students with dysphasia. They need help in particular:
- In becoming more organized
- Being given extra time to complete written tasks
- Being provided with handouts where possible in preference to taking things down from the board to be seated closer to the teacher in order to help them stay focused and organized.
Borderline General Learning Disability – these children generally have a measured IQ score between 70- 79. (The average score is between 90-110). This obviously causes difficulty in keeping up in class. They need information to be presented several times in order for them to master it, they can learn, but it will take them longer than their mainstream peers. They may appear to be immature for their chronological age, have a limited attention span, and a limited ability to apply what they have been taught out of its immediate context. They will cope if teachers take on board their need for things to be explained more than once, and if they are given concrete activities based around the information/ skill to be mastered. Differentiation the material to be taught will be of benefit, as is positive feedback, as many of these children have a negative view if themselves as learners, which, if they are inadequately supported to achieve, may lead to behavioural problems in school.
Mild General Learning Difficulty – these children have an assessed IQ score between 50-68. This means that they will have considerable difficulty in coping with the demands of a mainstream curriculum, and will definitely require resource teaching on an on-going basis, as well as the teaching strategies outlined above. Many of these students also lack the appropriate language to express ideas, concepts, feelings. They may find change to their routines disturbing. In order to prepare them for life beyond school, they will benefit from being taught real life applications of the curriculum. With collaboration between the LS/SEN teacher and the subject teacher with regards to planning appropriate levels of support and work, these children will make progress at their level.
Moderate General Learning Difficulty – these children have been assessed as having IQ scores between 35-49. While these children generally attend special classes/ special schools (which offer intensive appropriate support), they have the right to attend a mainstream school. They require help in not just the academic arena, but also in learning appropriate socialization skills in order to help them achieve a measure of independence. Students in this category tend to have a very limited attention span, and inability to focus on more than one thing at a time, and have difficulties coping with instructions, change, non routine tasks. Given the nature of their difficulties, students with Moderate GLDs will require resource support, and a differentiated curriculum, with teachers keeping instructions clear and simple. Subject teachers will need to work closely with the LS/SEN team to devise work that is ability appropriate.
Severe/Profound General Learning Difficulties – these children have an IQ score below 35, which impacts on every aspect of their lives-physical, academic and social. Children in this category tend to be affected by more than one disability, and have problems with even basic communication. They require high levels of specialist support in order to enable them to adapt to the demands of life.
For more information on any of the general learning difficulties, check www.sess.ie which has a good range of fact sheets available.
Autism/ Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) – Autism is a neurobiological condition which impacts on children affected in a variety of ways. It is a lifelong disability which affects the way someone communicates and interacts with others around them. A child with ASD sees the world fro a unique perspective; and their ability to survive and thrive in a mainstream setting requires a lot of planning and empathy on behalf of the teachers working with these students. One major way in which teachers can support these students is recognizing their need for security and routine in the classroom, with appropriate cues being given to these children to help them make sense of their environment and to stay on task. Some children with ASD may have an „obsessive‟ interest in a toy/ topic/ game; teachers may find that relating their topic to the child‟s interest helps the learning process. Collaboration with the appropriate LS/ SEN, SNA will help.
The following is a general description of the most common characteristics, but it is worth remembering that each child with ASD will be affected differently, and may not have all of these characteristics. The LS/SEN team should be able to indicate the specifics for each child.
- Social Interaction
- Apparent indifference to others-including family members
- Inability to connect with others
- Misjudging appropriate responses in social situations
- Appearing insensitive to the feelings of others
- Appearing distant, overly formal
- Insistence on routines-may be “tantrums” if these are disrupted
- Lack of flexibility in dealing with others
Language and Communication:
- May take statements literally
- May be unable to interpret non verbal communications, such as body language, facial expressions, tone of voice etc
- May not use language in its correct context
- May speak “out-of-turn” at inappropriate times
- May be fixated on one particular topic, toy, interest
- Difficulty accepting changes in routine, the unexpected
- Difficulty understanding the concept of cause and effect
- Difficulty in planning ahead, organizing
- May need a lot of help to distinguish between fact and fiction
- May have difficulty interacting with their peers
- Resistant of new people
- Difficulty articulating emotions, saying what they need, sometimes leading to tantrums caused by frustration
Teachers working with children with ASD are advised to remember the following strategies :
- keep instructions clear and as exact as possible (remember you may be interpreted literally)
- avoid using slang which they may not understand
- present information in an organized fashion, avoiding overloading with too much information to be processed
- have a definite routine that helps them to feel secure-and if you are aware of a change to the routine ahead of time-such as your absence due to in-service, let the student know that they will have a new teacher for a few days; teach social skills like turn taking, making eye contact, sharing etc, as these do not come naturally to the child with ASD
- The use of visual cues are helpful, as is “over teaching” key strategies, rules and concepts
It is also recommended that clear definite feedback is provided with regards to their behavior as well as their work. If the child becomes upset/ throws a tantrum, it is important to realize that they are not deliberately „acting up‟ and should be allowed a time out to regroup.
The key point to remember is that many children with ASD can and do thrive in mainstream settings with appropriate support from their teachers.
Asperger’s Syndrome-a form of autism. Many children with Asperger‟s Syndrome have IQ scores in the average to superior range. It is important to note that they too need routine and dislike change, and may require “time outs” when things become too stressful. Like children with ASD, they may find social interactions difficult, and will require support to help them navigate the social and organizational demands of school. For example, the student with Asperger‟s may need help to understand when they have offended someone or the fact that they do not want to do assignments that do not relate to their area of interest is not to be facilitated by the teacher. The teacher may have to clarify the rules and expectations for class participation to the student.
Other possible strategies include :
- using a buddy system
- differentiate the amount of homework due
- keep the student on task by directing specific questions to the student
- provide extra explanations and details on a topic, and given the fact that a child with Asperger‟s Syndrome tends to react very badly to failure, provide extra guidance help as soon as an area of difficulty is noticed.
Also, the support strategies listed above will also benefit the student with Asperger’s Syndrome.
ADHD -Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; a neurobiological disorder, characterized by:
- poor impulse control
- Physical restlessness or hyperactive behavior
ADHD has long term implications for a child‟s academic and social future, with many failing to complete age appropriate education.
A child must exhibit these symptoms in each aspect of their life before an appropriate professional may consider making the diagnosis of ADHD.
They may be:
- very lively and have problems with concentration, remembering and/or following instructions
- may appear distracted on a regular basis
- may engage in risky, dangerous behavior
- disorganized forgetful
- unable to stat on task-or at something else altogether
- Have untidy/error filled work
- Socially inappropriate behavior
Tourette Syndrome – a neurological, biochemical disorder. This syndrome is characterized by:
- involuntary verbal and /or motor „tics‟, such as twitching
- repeating what people say
- repeatedly copying an action
- inappropriate swearing
- making faces
- leg motions
- nodding excessively
- unusual movements such as skipping etc.
Children with Tourette‟s frequently have other difficulties, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, ADHD, Depression. The impact on a child‟s educational progress may be profound-and there are obvious social ramifications. The „tics‟ can interfere with a child‟s ability to stay on task-or to complete a task. It may make their handwriting illegible; or pose problems with regards to copying work from the board. Verbal „tics‟ can interrupt their speech-or cause disruption in the classroom. They may appear distracted and fidgety. Their syndrome may cause them to be very isolated in a school setting and make them extremely vulnerable to bullying.
Some suggestions to support the child with Tourette‟s include:
- the use of assistive technology
- allowing extra time to complete tasks and tests
- permission to leave the classroom when they feel the compulsion to tic
- allowing them to take short breaks in the middle of demanding activities
- support with note taking-providing handouts
- seating them away from obvious distractions
Being aware of their potential isolation and consulting the appropriate support professionals.
Visual Impairment – is a general term encompassing those with some loss of sight to blindness.
The three main categories in this area are:
- Partial sight
- Low vision
There are variations within each category. Depending on the extent of the difficulty, a child may experience problems with:
- Mastering literacy skills
- Understanding concepts
- Dealing with mathematics
- General mobility
Things to be aware of when working with a student with visual impairment include:
- print size-large print text books are available from many educational publishers as are audio books
- handouts should be in large print format (minimum font size 16)
- the student should be seated close to the board, given extra time to complete tasks, tests
- mark work with a heavy black pen, as it is easier to distinguish
- avoid cluttered handouts
- use printed as opposed to handwritten overheads
Some students will qualify for low vision aids to be used in the classroom and in the State examinations; some will qualify for large print exam papers and extra time under the conditions of RACE; some will be awarded assistive technology; some will have a Braille machine, some will work with an SNA. In each individual case, the school will be guided by the child‟s report and the advice of the Visiting Support teacher for the Visually Impaired. This information will be shared with the child‟s subject teacher.
Deaf, Hard of Hearing – the degree to which someone is categorized as having hearing difficulties is based on the following scale, which measures the quietest sound someone can hear in decibels :
- 10-12 decibels: normal Hearing
- 20-30 decibels: mildly Hard of Hearing
- 30-60 decibels: Moderately Hard of Hearing
- 60-89 decibels: Severely Hard of Hearing
- 90+ decibels: profoundly Deaf
Obviously how this impacts on a child is determined by the extent of the deafness.
It may cause problems in:
- acquiring language
- communicating with others
- social isolation
- expressing ideas
- understanding concepts
- following instructions
Some students rely on basic hearing aids, others may require a more powerful radio mike that the teacher clips on at the start of each lesson, which transmits directly to the student‟s hearing aid. It is recommended that students in this category sit directly in front of the teacher, to facilitate communication.
Small things can make all the difference, like:
- remembering to face the group when talking
- speak from a well lit area of the room
- repeat instructions to avoid confusion
- speak clearly
- use direct teaching
- write instructions, announcements etc on the board
- reduce background noise which may interfere with a hearing aid
- use gestures and visual codes to get their attention, as shouting distorts sound- write instructions instead.
Some students will be exempt from the aural elements of language examinations, some will qualify for the assistance of an SNA, some will qualify for speech and language therapy, some will qualify for RACE concessions. In each individual case, the school will be guided by the child‟s report and will avail of the assistance and guidance provided by the appropriate support teacher, who is a member of the visiting teacher service for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Cerebral Palsy – this condition affects the part of the brain which controls movement and posture. The degree which it affects people varies; some people are mildly affected, which means that they are slower to exert muscle control- people moderately affected may need a Zimmer frame/wheelchair to aid their mobility. In some cases, it also affects speech and /or sight. They may require the support of an occupational therapist, and, if so, the occupational therapist‟s recommendations will be shared with the mainstream teachers.
As cerebral palsy affects muscle control, in an academic setting, students with cerebral palsy may require:
- the support of an SNA
- assistance technology in order to cope with the written demands of the school curriculum
- being given handouts of materials
- help with copying materials from the board
- extra time in examination conditions
- large print/audio text books
- Being given rest breaks if required
Hydrocephalus – generally called “water on the brain”, children (most commonly with spina bifida ) are born with a build up of cerebro- spinal fluid which places extra pressure on the child’s skull, as the bones are not fully fused.
This requires that a shunt (a tube) be placed in the child’s in order to periodically drain the excess fluid. It is a lifetime condition which poses a lot of challenges for the child- physically, educationally, socially and emotionally.
It may cause the following additional problems:
- linguistic difficulties
- speech difficulties
- sensitivity to noise
- motor co- ordination difficulties
- recurring headaches
- poor hand eye co-ordination
- It may also cause difficulties with learning to read
- recalling information
- organizational skills
- following verbal instructions
- staying on task
- comprehension of written texts
They generally need support in order to enable them to follow tasks through from beginning to end. As is common with children with concentration and recall difficulties, they may benefit from:
- over teaching
- summaries of the most important information being emphasized
- being allowed extra time to complete tasks, tests
- support with planning and organizational skills
The child‟s formal assessment will identify the specific difficulties the child experiences, and suggest measures that the teacher should adopt in order to support the child with hydrocephalus. Check with the LS/SEN team for specifics.
For further information, go to www.iasbah.ie
Spina Bifida– a condition which causes the child to be born with their spinal cord incompletely developed, as the vertebrae are not fully formed at birth. The impact of spina bifida varies depending on its severity.
It may cause:
- bowel and continence difficulties
- loss of sensation of lower limbs
- socialization issues
- difficulties with hand control
- learning in general and problems with the acquisition of language
- these students may have difficulty working at the same pace as their mainstream peers
- transcribing work
- dealing with subjects that require visual- spatial skills such as Maths
- time management and general organizational skills
Recommendations to support the child with these difficulties include:
- giving extra time
- providing handouts of class materials where possible
- using clear and direct instructions
- liaising with the SNA to differentiate the material
- reducing the organizational difficulties for the child
- teach concepts in logical sequential order
- allow the child to take a time out if they are getting tired, frustrated
In each individual case, the school will be guided by the child‟s professional report, in order to plan effectively Specific details and support guidance will be sourced by the LS.SEN team from the relevant care professionals and shared with the subject teachers.
Cystic Fibrosis – this is a life threatening inherited disease, which affects the glands, damaging many organs such as the lungs and the digestive system. As a result, many suffer from malnutrition, as the condition impairs their ability to absorb nutrients.
They may also suffer from recurrent chest infections, with some suffering severe lung damage. In class, they may:
- cough frequently
- break wind
- they may need frequent bathroom breaks
- time to rest within a school day
They will require extra time and support with the academic and social demands of school because of their health issues. Given the nature of this disease, the school will be guided by the child‟s report and work closely with the relevant support professionals.