Identifying special educational needs in under fives

Your child's early years are an important time for their development, and if they have special educational needs, it is important they are discovered as early as possible. If you are worried that your child may be having problems before they go to school, help is at hand.

Worries about your child's development

Your child learns through being with other people and exploring the world around them. However, 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 are said to have 'special educational needs'.

Finding out more

If you think your child may have a special educational need (SEN) that has not been identified, you should first talk to the person in your child's nursery, playgroup or other early years setting who has a particular responsibility for special educational needs.

If your child is not attending a nursery or other early years setting, you can talk to the Education Authority (EA) in your region - 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.

You could also talk to your doctor or health visitor. The EA has a network of services for under fives. Health authorities, voluntary organisations and social services work closely together to support children with special educational needs.

Getting help

Your child's nursery school should be able to help your child overcome the barriers that their problems present, but it is possible that your child will need extra support for some or all of their time in education. If your child is not in a nursery school, the EA in your region can advise on suitable local provision.

Some points to bear in mind include:

  • 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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