SEN Needs or Diagnosis
What is autism?
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. More than one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.
Autism is a spectrum condition and affects people in different ways. Like all people, autistic people have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Autistic people have difficulties with interpreting both verbal and non-verbal language like gestures or tone of voice. Some autistic people are unable to speak or have limited speech while other autistic people have very good language skills but struggle to understand sarcasm or tone of voice. Other challenges include:
- taking things literally and not understanding abstract concepts
- needing extra time to process information or answer questions
- repeating what others say to them (this is called echolalia)
Autistic people often have difficulty 'reading' other people - recognising or understanding others' feelings and intentions - and expressing their own emotions. This can make it very hard to navigate the social world. Autistic people may:
- appear to be insensitive
- seek out time alone when overloaded by other people
- not seek comfort from other people
- appear to behave 'strangely' or in a way thought to be socially inappropriate
- find it hard to form friendships.
With its unwritten rules, the world can seem a very unpredictable and confusing place to autistic people. This is why they often prefer to have routines so that they know what is going to happen. They may want to travel the same way to and from school or work, wear the same clothes or eat exactly the same food for breakfast.
Autistic people may also repeat movements such as hand flapping, rocking or the repetitive use of an object such as twirling a pen or opening and closing a door. Autistic people often engage in these behaviours to help calm themselves when they are stressed or anxious, but many autistic people do it because they find it enjoyable.
Change to routine can also be very distressing for autistic people and make them very anxious. It could be having to adjust to big events like Christmas or changing schools, facing uncertainty at work, or something simpler like a bus detour that can trigger their anxiety.
Autistic people may experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light, colours, temperatures or pain. For example, they may find certain background sounds like music in a restaurant, which other people ignore or block out, unbearably loud or distracting. This can cause anxiety or even physical pain. Many autistic people prefer not to hug due to discomfort, which can be misinterpreted as being cold and aloof.
Many autistic people avoid everyday situations because of their sensitivity issues. Schools, workplaces and shopping centres can be particularly overwhelming and cause sensory overload. There are many simple adjustments that can be made to make environments more autism-friendly.
When everything becomes too much for an autistic person, they can go into meltdown or shutdown. These are very intense and exhausting experiences.
A meltdown happens when someone becomes completely overwhelmed by their current situation and temporarily loses behavioural control. This loss of control can be verbal (eg shouting, screaming, crying) or physical (eg kicking, lashing out, biting) or both. Meltdowns in children are often mistaken for temper tantrums and parents and their autistic children often experience hurtful comments and judgmental stares from less understanding members of the public.
A shutdown appears less intense to the outside world but can be equally debilitating. Shutdowns are also a response to being overwhelmed, but may appear more passive - eg an autistic person going quiet or 'switching off'. One autistic woman described having a shutdown as: 'just as frustrating as a meltdown, because of not being able to figure out how to react how I want to, or not being able to react at all; there isn’t any ‘figuring out’ because the mind feels like it is past a state of being able to interpret.'
What is ADHD
ADHD is a mental health condition that is defined through analysis of behaviour. People with ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity–impulsivity that interferes with day-to-day functioning and/or development.
Diagnosis can only be done by a medical professional.
Symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months, and they are inappropriate for developmental level:
- Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
- Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
- Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
- Often has trouble organising tasks and activities.
- Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
- Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
- Is often easily distracted
- Is often forgetful in daily activities.
Symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been present for at least 6 months to an extent that is disruptive and inappropriate for the person’s developmental level:
- Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
- Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
- Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless).
- Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
- Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”.
- Often talks excessively.
- Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
- Often has trouble waiting their turn.
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g. butts into conversations or game)
Watch the video in the link below for more information or speak to Mrs Westrop.
Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that mainly causes problems with reading, writing and spelling.
It's a specific learning difficulty, which means it causes problems with certain abilities used for learning, such as reading and writing.
Unlike a learning disability, intelligence isn't affected.
It's estimated up to 1 in every 10 people in the UK has some degree of dyslexia.
Dyslexia is a lifelong problem that can present challenges on a daily basis, but support is available to improve reading and writing skills and help those with the problem be successful at school and work.
What are the signs of dyslexia?
Signs of dyslexia usually become apparent when a child starts school and begins to focus more on learning how to read and write.
A person with dyslexia may:
- read and write very slowly
- confuse the order of letters in words
- be confused by letters that look similar and write letters the wrong way round (such as "b" and "d")
- have poor or inconsistent spelling
- understand information when told verbally, but have difficulty with information that's written down
- find it hard to carry out a sequence of directions
- struggle with planning and organisation
But people with dyslexia often have good skills in other areas, such as creative thinking and problem solving.
If you think your child may have dyslexia, the first step is to speak to their teacher or Mrs Westrop about your concerns. They may be able to offer additional support to help your child if necessary.
If your child continues to have problems despite extra support, you or the school may want to consider requesting an in-depth assessment from a specialist in assessing specific learning difficulties (SpLD), an educational psychologist or a speech and language therapist.
Adults who wish to be assessed for dyslexia should contact a local or national dyslexia association for advice.
Support for people with dyslexia
If your child has dyslexia, they'll probably need extra educational support from their school. With appropriate support, there's usually no reason your child can't go to a mainstream school, although a small number of children may benefit from attending a specialist school.
Techniques and support that may help your child include:
- occasional 1-to-1 teaching or lessons in a small group with a specialist teacher
- phonics (a way of teaching children to identify and process the smaller sounds that make up words) combined with other techniques
- technology like computers and speech-recognition software that may make it easier for your child to read and write when they're a bit older
- Schools and colleges must offer support to students with a specific learning difficulty like dyslexia, and have access to specialist staff who are trained in helping students with special education needs.
Assistive technologies such as speech-recognition software, word processors and electronic organisers can be useful for adults, too.
Employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace to help people with dyslexia, such as allowing extra time for certain tasks.
Speech and Language Concerns
This is a guide to how children develop talking and their understanding or words between 4 and 5 years.
At this stage, they need to listen, understand more and share their ideas within the classroom. They will use their language skills to help them learn to read.
Children develop skills at different rates but by 5 years usually children will:
- Understand spoken instructions without stopping what they are doing to look at the speaker
- Choose their own friends and play mates
- Take turns in much longer conversations
- Understand more complicated words such as ‘first’, ‘last’, ‘might’, ‘may be’, ‘above’ and ‘in between’
- Understand words that describe sequences such as “first we are going to the shop, next we will play in the park”
- Use sentences that are well formed. However, they may still have some difficulties with grammar. For example, saying 'sheeps' instead of 'sheep' or 'goed' instead of 'went'
- Think more about the meanings of words, such as describing the meaning of simple words or asking what a new word means
- Use most sounds effectively. However, they may have some difficulties with more difficult words such as 'scribble' or 'elephant'.
This is a guide to how children develop talking and their understanding of words between 5 and 7 years.
Often by 5 or 6 years, children have good speech and language skills. They are better at using language in different ways e.g. discussing ideas or giving opinions.
Children develop skills at different rates, but beyond 5 years, usually children will:
- Focus on one thing for longer without being reminded
- Rely less on pictures and objects to learn new words
- Use their language skills in learning to read, write and spell
- Learn that the same word can mean two things, such as 'orange' the fruit and 'orange' the colour
- Learn that different words can mean the same thing such as ’minus’ and ‘take away’
- Understand feelings and descriptive words like 'carefully', 'slowly' or 'clever'
- Use language for different purposes such as asking questions or persuading
- Share and discuss more complex ideas
- Use language in a range of social situations.
This is a guide to how children develop speech and language between 7 and 11 years.
Talking and understanding words is a gradual process. Children develop skills at different rates but beyond 8 years, usually children will:
- Use language to predict and draw conclusions
- Use long and complex sentences
- Understand other points of view and show that they agree or disagree
- Understand comparative words e.g. ‘it was earlier than yesterday’
- Keep a conversation going by giving reasons and explaining choices
- Start conversations with adults and children they don’t know
- Understand and use passive sentences where the order of the words can still be confusing for younger children e.g. “the thief is chased by the policeman”.
If you would like more ideas on how to support your child’s language development or if you are concerned, please speak to Mrs Westrop.
Sensory Processing Difficulties
Sensory processing is a subconscious and automatic neurological process that occurs in every person at all stages of life. Our brains take in information through our senses and organise it so that we are able to respond appropriately to particular situations and environmental demands. Sensory experiences include touch, movement, body position, vision, smell, taste, sound and the pull of gravity.
For most people, sensory processing develops in the course of ordinary childhood activities. When a person has good sensory processing skills then they are able to integrate information automatically and efficiently. But for some people, sensory processing does not develop as efficiently as it should and can affect activities of daily living, academic achievement, behaviour or social participation.
Children can present with different types of sensory difficulties
Hyper (over) sensitive
- Fear of heights
- Dislike of touch experiences eg nail cutting, messy play, hair cutting
- Dislike of loud and sudden sounds
- Avoidance of playground equipment (swings and slides)
- Avoidance of certain foods and food textures, colours, temperature, etc.
Hypo (under) sensitive
- Appears to have no fear or doesn’t feel pain
- Seeks movement or touch opportunities (fidgets, rocks, runs about, leans on peers)
- Mouths or chews things
- Poor attention to the environment or people around
Motor Planning (praxis)
- Appears clumsy
- Difficulty creating movement ideas
- Difficulty planning and executing new movements
- Slouches at desk
- Fidgets/difficulty sitting in one position for extended period of time
- Impact on fine motor coordination & ball skills
- Poor balance
If you think this describes your child, please speak to Mrs Westrop who can refer you to an occupational therapist.
Although serious vision problems during childhood are rare, routine eye checks are offered to newborn babies and young children to identify any problems early on. Your child should have an annual sight test at an opticians.
Free NHS sight tests are also available at opticians for children under 16 and for young people under 19 in full-time education.
Why eye checks are important
The sooner any eye problem is found, the sooner you and your child will be able to get any treatment and support needed.
Children may not realise they have a vision problem so, without routine tests, there's a risk a problem may not be spotted. This may affect their development and education.
Causes of eye problems in babies and children
There are a number of different eye problems that can be detected during eye tests, including:
childhood cataracts – cloudy patches in the lens of the eye that are present from birth
lazy eye (amblyopia) – where the vision in one eye does not develop properly
squint (strabismus) – where the eyes look in different directions
short-sightedness (myopia) – where distant objects appear blurred, while close objects can be seen clearly
long-sightedness (hyperopia) – where you can see distant objects clearly but nearby objects are out of focus
astigmatism – where the transparent layer at the front of the eye (cornea) is not perfectly curved
colour vision deficiency (colour blindness) – difficulty seeing colours or distinguishing between different colours; this is more common in boys than girls
Spotting signs of an eye problem
Although your child should have regular eye tests as they grow up, it's still important to look out for signs of any problems and get advice if you have any concerns.
For babies, the checklist in your baby's personal child health record (red book) can be used to help you check if your child's vision is developing normally.
In older children, signs of a possible eye problem can include:
the eyes not pointing in the same direction
complaining of headaches or eye strain
problems reading – for example, they may need to hold books close to their face and they may lose their place regularly
problems with hand-eye co-ordination – for example, they may struggle to play ball games
being unusually clumsy
regularly rubbing their eyes
sitting too close to the TV
Speak to a GP or go to an opticians if you have any concerns about your child's eyes or vision. The earlier a problem is picked up the better.
Children can have an eyesight test at any age. They do not need to be able to read, or even speak. An eyesight test is particularly important if there's a history of childhood eye problems, such as squint or lazy eye, in your family.
Developmental co-ordination disorder (dyspraxia)
Developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), also known as dyspraxia, is a condition affecting physical co-ordination. It causes a child to perform less well than expected in daily activities for their age, and appear to move clumsily.
DCD is thought to be around 3 or 4 times more common in boys than girls, and the condition sometimes runs in families.
Early developmental milestones of crawling, walking, self-feeding and dressing may be delayed in young children with DCD. Drawing, writing and performance in sports are also usually behind what is expected for their age.
Although signs of the condition are present from an early age, children vary widely in their rate of development. This means a definite diagnosis of DCD does not usually happen until a child with the condition is 5 years old or more.
Doing co-ordinated movements is a complex process that involves many different nerves and parts of the brain. Any problem in this process could potentially lead to difficulties with movement and co-ordination.
It's not usually clear why co-ordination doesn't develop as well as other abilities in children with DCD.
There's no cure for DCD, but a number of therapies can help children to manage their problems. These include:
- being taught ways of do activities they find difficult, such as breaking down difficult movements into smaller parts and practicing them regularly
- adapting tasks to make them easier, such as using special grips on pens and pencils so they are easier to hold
Although DCD does not affect how intelligent a child is, it can make it more difficult for them to learn and they may need extra help to keep up at school.
If you're concerned about your child's health or development, talk to a GP or health visitor, or Mrs Westrop.
Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor refers to development of the smaller muscles within a person’s body, ie hands, fingers and toes. These muscles enable children to carry out everyday activities such as holding a pencil correctly, buttoning their shirt or tying their shoe laces, as they develop their eye-hand coordination, eye-finger coordination and their finger strength and control. Children with fine motor difficulties are supported in school through fun and engaging activities. Why not check out these links and have some fun with these at home using everyday items: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MD86MGSBd8w
5 Tips to Improve Handwriting
Make Practicing Fun
Offer your child a special pencil or a rainbow of coloured ones. Don't just give them words to copy. Try simple word puzzles, anagrams, a game of hangman, or ask them to brainstorm lists around a theme to give writing practice a purpose.
Encourage Drawing and Puzzle Games
In order to develop the physical requirements of writing — holding a pencil correctly, posture, control, dexterity, coordination — the more time your child spends manipulating objects, the better. Even using silverware can help them develop their fine-motor skills.
Pinpoint the Problem
Common handwriting problems lie in four main areas: letter formation, sizing, spaces between words, and line-alignment. Focus your child's practice on the letters or concepts that challenge them and make sure they are using two hands to control the paper.
The Right Tools
If your child's struggling with a regular pencil, try a smaller or shorter one. Ensure they know how to cross out neatly so they are not afraid of making mistakes.
Writing Outside the Box
A foggy mirror, patch of mud, or bowl of leftover sauce make great surfaces. Whether your child's practicing with his fingers, a stick, or a pencil, inspiring his creativity will lend appeal to writing.
Concentration is like a muscle that requires regular exercise to strengthen. Some children are born “stronger” in this area than others, but all children can learn strategies and engage in practices that help improve their ability to focus and sustain their attention. This is, after all, a very important skill for children to acquire—school demands that students concentrate for long stretches of time, and as children get older they have extracurricular activities after school that require even more concentration. Most children are able to concentrate on activities that are fun and intrinsically enjoyable. It’s the ones that are more boring, difficult or just less enjoyable that really challenge their focus. Yet this ability to concentrate and sustain attention on all kinds of tasks is crucially important, because it helps children learn and improve, which leads to self-confidence and positive self-esteem.
Concentration is a lot like mindfulness, a concept that has been receiving quite a bit of attention lately in psychology and in popular culture. Mindfulness is basically the ability to pay attention to one thing in the moment, and it has been shown to have innumerable mental health benefits, from increased happiness and stress management to improved academic and test performance. For mindfulness to work, you have to focus.
Here are some tips to help your children build their concentration muscles:
1Set aside a reasonable amount of time for your child to practice focusing on a specific task.
Young children (age 4-5) can usually concentrate for somewhere between 5 and 20 minutes, depending on the task—less time with novel and challenging tasks, and more time with those intrinsically enjoyable activities.
2Do one thing at a time.
We may praise the ability to multitask in our adult lives, but the research is clear: multitasking reduces concentration and diminishes our performance. In line with the concept of mindfulness, do one thing at a time in this one moment. For very young children, you might simply sing the alphabet together while looking at the letters. For children who are a little older, you can complete one long division problem at a time together. Don’t look ahead at all the other problems, just focus on one at a time.
3Set aside homework time and space.
Because multitasking impairs concentration, it’s important to reduce extraneous distractions. For example, do homework at a designated desk or table in a quiet room with the TV off, the phone in another room, and the laptop shut unless it’s needed to complete a homework assignment. Parental monitoring programs can automatically shut down Internet access after a set amount of use. As children get older, parents can shift to using self-monitoring software so teens can independently manage their time. This way children don’t get sucked into a time vortex on Instagram or Snapchat.
4Build in planned breaks.
Children need to get up, move around, and do something different and not too taxing after spending some time concentrating. They will benefit from taking some time to rest and recharge, especially during after-school homework time. Younger children can take a snack or play break, and teens can take the opportunity to check out their friends’ posts or text with peers.
5Practice belly breathing.
Steady, diaphragmatic breathing slows our heart rate and clears our mind so we can concentrate. This is an important skill for children to have when they’re confronted with challenging tasks, which can make them anxious and spike their heart rate. Anxiety leads to avoidance, the opposite of concentration. So finding ways to make tasks more approachable is important, and calming the body is one of those strategies.
6Break big tasks down into smaller, more manageable pieces.
This is another strategy for helping children to approach a challenging task. If your child is learning to tie her shoes, make the first goal to master the initial knot, then move on to making two loops with the strings until she knows exactly how to do that, and so forth. Another “piecemeal” strategy for building concentration is to use a timer to help children organize themselves, e.g., “Here’s a book about horses. I’m going to set this timer for 15 minutes, and I want you to write down as many facts about horses as you can in this time.”
7Practice observing things in the moment.
Children can be distracted by “internal stimuli,” like physical sensations or entertaining memories. While a child’s imagination is a wonderful thing, we also want them to be able to clear away distractions and build the ability to concentrate. You can play “I spy with my little eye…” and take turns making observations of various objects in the room, listen closely to the lyrics of a song together, or do some yoga poses and pay attention to how it feels in the body.
We have several children with different health conditions at Holy Cross. One of those is Epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a common condition that affects the brain and causes frequent seizures.
Seizures are bursts of electrical activity in the brain that temporarily affect how it works. They can cause a wide range of symptoms.
Epilepsy can start at any age, but usually starts either in childhood or in people over 60.
It's often lifelong, but can sometimes get slowly better over time.
Symptoms of epilepsy
Seizures can affect people in different ways, depending on which part of the brain is involved.
Possible symptoms include:
- uncontrollable jerking and shaking, called a "fit"
- losing awareness and staring blankly into space
- becoming stiff
- strange sensations, such as a "rising" feeling in the tummy, unusual smells or tastes, and a tingling feeling in your arms or legs
- Sometimes you might pass out and not remember what happened.
Treatments for epilepsy
Treatment can help most people with epilepsy have fewer seizures or stop having seizures completely.
- medicines called anti-epileptic drugs – these are the main treatment
- surgery to remove a small part of the brain that's causing the seizures
- a procedure to put a small electrical device inside the body that can help control seizures
- a special diet (ketogenic diet) that can help control seizures
- Some people need treatment for life. But you might be able to stop treatment if your seizures disappear over time.
Living with epilepsy
- Epilepsy is usually a lifelong condition, but most people with it are able to have normal lives if their seizures are well controlled.
- Most children with epilepsy are able to go to a mainstream school, take part in most activities and sports, and get a job when they're older.
- But you may have to think about your epilepsy before you do things such as driving, certain jobs, swimming, using contraception and planning a pregnancy.
Hearing tests for children
Routine hearing tests are offered to newborn babies and children to identify any problems early on in their development.
Although serious hearing problems during childhood are rare, early testing ensures that any problems are picked up and managed as early as possible.
Why hearing tests are important
Hearing tests carried out soon after birth can help identify most babies with significant hearing loss, and testing later in childhood can pick up any problems that have been missed or have been slowly getting worse.
Without routine hearing tests, there's a chance that a hearing problem could go undiagnosed for many months or even years.
It's important to identify hearing problems as early as possible because they can affect your child's speech and language development, social skills and education.
Causes of hearing problems in babies and children
There are a number of reasons why a child may have a hearing problem, including temporary hearing loss from a common illness such as a common cold.
Some possible causes of hearing loss that may be detected during routine tests include:
- glue ear – a build-up of fluid in the middle ear, which is common in young children
- infections that develop in the womb or at birth, such as rubella (german measles) or cytomegalovirus, which can cause progressive hearing loss
- inherited conditions which stop the ears or nerves from working properly
- damage to the cochlear or auditory nerves (which transmit hearing signals to the brain); this could be caused by a severe head injury, exposure to loud noise or head surgery, for example
- being starved of oxygen at birth (birth asphyxia)
- illnesses such as meningitis and encephalitis (which both involve swelling in the brain)
Spotting signs of a hearing problem
Although your child will be offered routine hearing tests as they grow up, it's still important for you to look out for signs of any problems and seek advice if you have any concerns.
In older children, signs of a possible hearing problem can include:
- inattentiveness or poor concentration
- not responding when their name is called
- talking loudly and listening to the television at a high volume
- difficulty pinpointing where a sound is coming from
- mispronouncing words
- a change in their progress at school
Speak to a GP or health visitor if you're concerned about your child's hearing. Your child can have a hearing test at any age.