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SEN Terminology

Any specialist discipline from Engineering to Fine Art has its own ‘lingo’ and the field of education is no different. When it comes to children with special educational needs there are even more acronyms and labels for parents to ‘get their heads round’. This can add to the stress of trying to understand the young person’s challenges and secure the best help.

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We’ve compiled a glossary below, explaining some of the more common terms –

ASD/ASC – used interchangeably, these refer to ‘autism spectrum disorder’ and ‘autism spectrum condition’. Both mean ‘autism’ though some people prefer ASC, as they feel ‘condition’ is less negative than ‘disorder’.

CAMHS – the ‘Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services’. Part of the NHS, there will be a CAMHS provision in every area. Children are usually referred to their local CAMHS as the first stage in getting a diagnosis of SEND.

Ed Psych – is an abbreviation of ‘educational psychologist’. They are involved in studying and evaluating the way children learn and are often part of a team diagnosing neurological disorders such as autism.

EHCP – an ‘education and healthcare plan’ – previously known as a ‘statement of special needs’. The EHCP is a legal document granted by a local authority outlining a child’s individual difficulties and the support they require. Not every child with SEND will receive an EHCP.

EOTAS – means ‘education other than at school’. This is where a young person with an EHCP is educated at home or in a different setting but the local authority still pays for the tuition/support.

FASD – stands for ‘foetal alcohol spectrum disorder‘, which is an umbrella term used to describe a range of mental, physical and neuro behavioural birth defects that result from an alcohol exposed pregnancy.

FINE/GROSS MOTOR SKILLS – refers to a child’s ability to use small and large muscles for everyday tasks such as tying shoelaces or kicking a football, usually assessed by an occupational therapist. Difficulties in these areas can sometimes indicate a neurodevelopmental disorder.

LA – is the ‘local authority’ (not Los Angeles!) This is your local council and will be different depending on where you live. The education department of your local authority is responsible for your child’s education.

LEARNING DIFFICULTY – a learning difficulty is a condition which makes it hard for a person to access education in the same way as their peers. An example of this would be ADHD which often makes it difficult for a student to concentrate. A learning difficulty does not imply problems with cognitive ability.

LEARNING DISABILITY – a learning disability is a condition which involves cognitive impairment and prevents a person from accessing learning in the same way as their peers. An example of this would be Down’s syndrome.

OT – an ‘occupational therapist’. OTs work with people of all ages to help them with the physical challenges of everyday life. For example, an OT would assess a child with dyspraxia to find out which tasks they find difficult and suggest exercises to improve strength and coordination.

PDA – stand for ‘pathological demand avoidance’, an aspect of autism where a person resists even the simplest requests due to extreme anxiety. Some people maintain that it should be classified as a condition in its own right.

SaLT – a ‘speech and language therapist’. SaLTs support people with all aspects of communication from the physical aspects of using the tongue and mouth for speech to social understanding and behaviour.

SEMH – refers to ‘social emotional and mental health’ issues which can cover a broad range of difficulties.

SEN/SEND – stand for ‘special educational needs’ or ‘special educational needs or disability’. Used interchangeably, these refer to any physical, mental, emotional or social situation or condition which mean that a child requires extra help to access learning. The terms cover a wide range of conditions from hearing impairment and epilepsy to dyslexia and anxiety.

SENCO/SENDCO – ‘special needs/disabilities coordinator’. All educational establishments have a SENCO/SENDCO who oversees the support of children there who have additional needs. This is the person who can arrange onsite assessments (such as with an educational psychologist) or refer a child to outside professionals for assessment for a diagnosis of conditions such as autism or ADHD. They will also make the referral for an EHCP assessment.

SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER – a neurological condition which affects the way the brain processes information from the senses. Often goes alongside other diagnoses such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia and Tourette’s. People can be over or under sensitive to sensory input.

SPECTRUM – some conditions, such as autism and FASD, are said to exist on a spectrum. This means that the diagnosis covers a range of difficulties from mild to severe and that each person will be different.

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