Identifying special educational needs in children under five

If your child has special educational needs, it's important their needs are identified in their early years. If you're worried your child might have learning problems before they start school, you can get help from some voluntary organisations and health and education services.

Worries about your child's development

Your child learns through being with other people and exploring the world around them. Some children have more problems than most children of their age with:

  • communication
  • understanding and learning
  • sensory and physical development
  • behaviour or interacting with other people

Children with this type of learning difficulty or disability have 'special educational needs'.

Getting help from your child's nursery or playgroup

If you think your child may have a special educational need (SEN) that hasn't been identified, you should talk to the person responsible for SEN in your child's nursery, playgroup or other early years setting.

Getting help if your child isn't at a nursery or playgroup

If your child doesn't go to nursery or other early years setting, you can talk to the Education Authority (EA) in your area. They have different services for children under five years old. Their early years and childcare team can help you find suitable early years and childcare provision and their Special Education Needs Team can give you advice about special educational needs.

Getting help from your doctor

You could also talk to your doctor or health visitor.  Health authorities, voluntary organisations and social services work closely together to support children with special educational needs.

Help with your child's education

Your child's nursery school could help your child overcome the barriers their problems present. Your child might need extra support for some or all of their time in education. If your child is not in a nursery school, the EA can advise on suitable local places.

It's important to remember:

  • your child's needs will usually be met in a mainstream nursery or school, sometimes with the help of outside specialists
  • you should be asked about the decisions that affect your child
  • your views should always be taken into account

Extra help is available for your child from specialists, teachers and from voluntary organisations offering advice that is often linked to particular needs.

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