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3 Most Common Special Educational Needs (SEN) In Schools

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

2022 figures show that just under 1.5 million pupils in England have special educational needs, which is an increase of 77,000 from 2021.

Both the number of pupils with an Education Health & Care (EHC) plan and the number of pupils with SEN support have increased:

  • The percentage of pupils with an (EHC) plan has increased to 4.0%.

  • The percentage of pupils with SEN but no EHC plan (SEN support) has increased to 12.6%.

In schools, today where almost one in six children has SEN, identifying, understanding, and responding to the most common SEN is a key part of any teacher's job description. Outlined below are 3 of the most common special educational needs. In this blog post, I will explain what they are and how they influence young learners. I also give some recommendations on how you can help and support your students to achieve their full potential as an educator.

It is important to keep in mind that the special educational needs I discuss here encompass extremely broad categories, and each student will respond differently to learning aids. Our SENDCo specialist has advised that patience, reflection, and a persistently positive attitude are effective means of supporting them.


According to the British Dyslexia Association, the number of dyslexics in the UK is around 10%, with 4% of this severely suffering from Dyslexia. Out of 8.7 million school children in England, a 2019 report estimated about 870,000 of them have dyslexia but fewer than 150,000 were diagnosed, according to Department for Education figures.

Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that mainly causes problems with reading, writing, and spelling. It is not a learning disability as such as it does not impact intelligence. There are considerable benefits to thinking differently. Albert Einstein, Richard Branson, Steven Spielberg, and John Lennon were/are dyslexic.

As a child starts school and begins to learn to read and write, dyslexia usually become evident.

Common symptoms affecting a child's experience in the classroom include:

  • Difficulty reading text

  • Slow processing speed, including slow spoken or written language. 

  • Poor or inconsistent spelling

  • Poor handwriting

  • Confusing the order of letters in words

  • Mixing letters and numbers

  • Verbally understand information, but have difficulty when it's written down

  • Difficulty concentrating, finding it difficult to carry out a sequence of directions

  • Find it difficult to plan and organize

Here are 3 ways you can support children with dyslexia in the classroom: Break down tasks into smaller chunks

Overloading pupils with too many tasks and instructions can easily overwhelm them. For dyslexic children who have difficulties with verbal processing speeds and memory, teachers must be particularly careful about how they structure lessons to support working memory. It is imperative to provide clear instructions, model tasks and regularly check understanding.

Wedges Whiteboards are a cross-curricular range of British Made Magnetic White Boards that will help you to meet the individual learning needs of your SEN students, by breaking down lesson content and scaffolding their understanding. 

Teacher using A3 folding wedge landscape whiteboard to personalise learning for SEN students in a primary school classroom in Gloucestershire
Teacher using A3 landscape Folding Wedge Whiteboard to break down lesson content for SEN pupils.

Repeating instructions and asking pupils to repeat them back. You can also develop and improve metacognitive talk by asking pupils to verbalize their thought processes.

Provide visual aids

Look to provide pupils with timelines, glossaries, keywords, multiplication squares and spelling banks to boost memory and retention. Using mnemonics, songs and rhymes can be very effective.

Provide Lesson Summaries

Providing lesson overviews and resources ahead of time can be beneficial for dyslexic students. A handout or a link to a website or video could be used here. Children can prepare for their learning in advance and/or consolidate previous learning with audio summaries, recaps, and introductions to lessons and units. 

Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Across the UK, around 700,000 adults, young people and children have autism, which is around 1 in 100. Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, at a ratio of 4:1.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behaviour.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behaviour. Although it can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to be a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life.

Common symptoms affecting a child's experience in the classroom include:

  • Difficulty in communicating and interacting with people

  • Difficulty understanding how other people think or feel

  • Overwhelmed by bright lights or loud noises, finding them stressful or uncomfortable

  • Get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events

  • Take longer to understand information

  • Take longer to complete tasks as they get easily distracted

  • Limited attention span / difficulty concentrating

  • Do or think the same things over and over

  • Asks lots of questions but do not appear to listen to the answers

  • Forgetful / easily loses things

  • Disorganised / uses time poorly

  • Difficult pencil grip (pressure right through the paper)

  • Unusually clumsy

  • Prefers to be read to as opposed to trying to read

  • May be able to read at a very advanced level but still have a lower level of comprehension

  • Has very advanced verbal abilities and poor writing skills

  • Unusually repetitive motor movements (hand flapping, finger twisting, whole body movement)

  • Tics (may include odd ones like the need to touch genitals)

  • Inability to take social and/or emotional ownership of behaviours

  • Very inflexible, has great difficulties with transitions

  • Abilities in music, art, drawing / Strong interest in technology, computers, construction

  • Extremely tactile, likes the feel of certain things

  • Does not like to be touched

Here are 3 ways you can support children with ASD in the classroom:

Establish Routines

Children do better in structured environments and having a routine in place can be beneficial to the entire class. Pupils feel secure when they follow a routine. A clear understanding of what will happen and when can empower children and reduce anxiety and stress.

Routine is imperative for children with autism, teachers can provide support by creating and displaying a visual timetable containing images and simple words, in chronological order to describe the activities and transitions in the child’s day. This visual aid provides a sense of security to the child, as well as a reminder to those who support them.

Changes to lesson plans are inevitable, and this can be difficult for autistic pupils to cope with. Teachers need to provide plenty of notice regarding any impending changes to the timetable.

Managing Transitions

As routine and predictability are critical to autistic children, they find changes and transitions challenging and overwhelming. Whether it be daily transitions such as going from activity to activity or bigger transitions like moving up a year group into a new class with a new teacher.

Autism tends to make children prefer 'sameness' and they may have difficulty making the necessary cognitive adjustments to cope with the changes. Anxiety, frustration, and stress may result from these difficulties. To maintain a stress-free learning environment, teachers should be aware of the importance of managing transitions. For each age group, there are many online resources regarding transition strategies, but most importantly, consistency and structure are key.

Effective Communication

Autistic children have varying levels of communicative abilities. Communication problems can also include delayed language development, difficulty maintaining conversations, and difficulty communicating verbally and non-verbally. Autism may also cause cognitive processing delays in children, which has little to do with the child’s capacity or intelligence, it’s about how the brain processes written or verbal information.

Autism can impact a child’s ability to communicate and interpret meaning. Pupils with autism will need time to process the questions that you ask. Teachers should employ demonstrations and modelling where possible, consider the words used (avoid figurative or abstract language) and think about how sentences are structured, and keep instructions simple. Translations can still get lost, so it is important to repeat instructions and encourage students to repeat them back.

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder)

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. ADHD is a chronic condition that impacts an individual’s emotions, behaviours, and ability to learn new things. It mainly affects children but can also occur in adults.

Common symptoms affecting a child's experience in the classroom include:

  • inattention: getting distracted easily, having poor concentration and organizational skills

  • impulsivity: interrupting, taking risks

  • hyperactivity: never seems to slow down, constantly talking and fidgeting, difficulty staying on task

Here are 3 ways you can support children with ADHD in the classroom:

Build a Strong Relationship with the Child’s Parents

Establish and maintain a strong working relationship with the pupil’s parents. Their knowledge of their child is invaluable, and they know what strategies work and what don't. Ask about the child’s strengths, weaknesses, achievements, and interests outside of school. This information will equip you in getting to know the child more intimately, which is crucial. Communicate with the child’s parents regularly and provide encouragement regarding progress.

Effective Seating Arrangements

Pupils with ADHD should be sat near you, which will help you to monitor their progress and ensure that they are on track. You may also look to sit them in an area with limited distractions, preferably with their back to the rest of the class and surrounded by good role models.

Be Simple, Clear, and Direct

Simplify all instructions and tasks as best you can. You also need to ensure that you have the pupil’s full attention prior to issuing instructions. You will need to be patient and frequently repeat guidelines. As well as adopting simplicity, clarity, and directness, you will need to establish eye contact to clearly show the pupil that you are talking to them. You may also look to display visual cues around the classroom to assist with keeping the pupil on task.

One of the best ways to help children with special educational needs is to talk to the child directly. They will understand their needs and emotions best and are likely to know what type of support they need, as will their parents. Acknowledge what doesn’t work and do more of what does. Be open to new teaching strategies and do not be afraid to seek advice and support.


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