What is special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)?

An image of a family playing in a park. A dad holding his young daughter in the air whilst laying on the ground and an image of a wheelchair in the forefront.

A child or young person has special educational needs and disabilities if they have a learning difficulty or a disability that means they need special health and education support. We shorten this to SEND.

Every child or young person may experience challenges with their learning at some point. For most, these difficulties are often overcome with support from teachers and home. However, they may need extra help or provision put in place to help them to have the same opportunities as others.

Some children may have SEND because of a medical condition or disability, other children may have SEND without a diagnosis or disability.

Children are not considered to have SEND just because their first language is not English, although some children where English is a second language may also have SEND.

This guide from the national government explains how the system that supports children and young people with special educational needs and disability (SEND) works.

Types of SEND

The SEND code of practice: 0 to 25 years sets out four main areas of special educational needs and disabilities, some children and young people may have SEND in more than one of these areas.

Communication and interaction needs

If your child or young person has communication and interaction needs, they might:

  • struggle to talk or say what they want to
  • find it hard to understand what other people are saying
  • find conversations and play confusing or challenging.

Find out more about speech, language and communication needs.

Cognition and learning difficulties

If your child or young person has cognition and learning difficulties, they might:

  • learn at a slower pace than others
  • find school difficult
  • struggle with organisation and memory
  • have a specific difficulty, for example in literacy or numeracy.

Learn more about learning difficulties.

Social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) difficulties

If your child or young person has social, emotional and mental difficulties, they might:

  • find relationships difficult
  • appear withdrawn or isolated
  • behave in ways that affect their learning, for example being disruptive
  • do things that impact on their health and wellbeing.

Find out more about SEMH difficulties.

Sensory needs and physical needs

If your child or young person has sensory needs, they might have a:

  • visual impairment (VI)
  • hearing impairment (H)
  • physical disability.

Find out more about sensory needs.

Support for your child or young person

If you believe that your child or young person has SEND, the first step is to explore the support available, and understand which is right for you.

Explore your options to find out what support is available.

Here's a jargon buster that IASK put together so you can see all the common terms and abbreviations you might come across.