What special educational needs and disabilities means

Find out about what special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) means and the legal definition.

Special educational needs and disabilities explained

Many children will need extra support with their learning at times during their life. However, this doesn't always mean that they have a special education need or disability (SEND).

The Children and Families Act 2014 explains that a child or young person has special educational needs if they have a learning difficulty or disability. This means they need special educational support because they:

  • find learning significantly more difficult compared to most others their age
  • have a disability which means it's more difficult for them to use mainstream education facilities without specialist help or equipment

A disability is defined under the Equality Act 2010 as a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

Substantial is more than a small or minor impact. For example, it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed.

Long term means 12 months or more.

Special educational needs and disabilities is often shortened to SEND.

There is also a legal definition of SEND that you can read.

What having SEND means for your child

A child or young person who has SEND may:

  • find it harder to learn than other children of the same age
  • have difficulties that make it hard to go to school or college
  • need extra help or support to learn at school

Types of special educational needs

The SEN code of practice explains how special educational needs are grouped in 4 categories:

  • communication and interaction, for example speech, language and communication difficulties that make it harder to understand language and communicate well with others
  • cognition and learning, for example learning more slowly than other children of the same age
  • social, emotional and mental health difficulties, for example finding it harder to manage relationships with others
  • sensory or physical needs, for example having a visual or hearing impairment, or physical needs that means require ongoing support and equipment

You can read the SEND code of practice on the GOV.UK website.

Who to ask for help

Check who you can talk to if you’re worried about your child’s development, or if you think they have a special educational need or disability.