The 4 Areas of Need

Sometimes a child or young person can be experiencing difficulties in more than one area of need and/or that one area can have a detrimental impact on another, sometimes short-term, especially if there is an unmet need. For example, if the child or young person has an on-going unmet need in the area of cognition and learning, that may result in frustration, low self-esteem and/or anger, which could in turn result in challenging behaviour, as an outcome of unmet learning needs. Exhibiting certain characteristics does not necessarily mean the child or young person is in need of special educational provision or that this provision is required long-term.

The characteristics described below are merely to assist in raising the questions for identification, for determining whether further assessment is needed and where the focus of that assessment might be initially. Every Child & Young Person will have a unique set of strengths and needs, and these will change over time and between contexts.

‘A detailed assessment of need should ensure that the full range of an individual’s needs is identified, not simply the primary need. The support provided to an individual should always be based on a full understanding of their particular strengths and needs and seek to address them all using well evidenced interventions targeted at their areas of difficulty and where necessary specialist equipment or software.’ SEND Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years (2015)

The Code of Practice states:

‘Children & young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) have difficulty in communicating with others. This may be because they have difficulty saying what they want to, understanding what is being said to them or they do not understand or use social rules of communication. The profile for every child with SLCN is different and their needs may change over time. They may have difficulty with one, some or all of the different aspects of speech, language or social communication at different times of their lives. Children & young people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism, are likely to have particular difficulties with social interaction. They may also experience difficulties with language, communication and imagination, which can have an impact on how they relate to others.’

SLCN is an umbrella term derived from the Bercow review in 2008. It applies to all Children & young people who have difficulty with speech, language and/or communication. These difficulties could be:

  • As a primary need (developmental language disorder) in the absence of any other difficulties
  • As part of another condition such as autism, learning difficulties, deafness or cerebral palsy
  • Resulting from social and/or environmental disadvantage.

The Code of Practice states:

‘Support for learning difficulties may be required when Children & young people learn at a slower pace than their peers, even with appropriate differentiation’.

Learning difficulties cover a wide range of needs:

  • Moderate learning difficulties (MLD)
  • Severe learning difficulties (SLD), when Children & young people are likely to need support in all areas of the curriculum and any associated difficulties with mobility and communication
  • Profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), when Children & young people are likely to have severe and complex learning difficulties as well as a physical disability or sensory impairment
  • Specific learning difficulties (SpLD), which affect one or more specific aspects of learning. This encompasses a range of conditions such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia.

The Code of Practice states:

‘Child & Young Person may experience a wide range of social and emotional difficulties which manifest themselves in many ways. These may include becoming withdrawn or isolated, as well as displaying challenging, disruptive or disturbing behaviour. These behaviours may reflect underlying mental health difficulties such as anxiety or depression, self-harming, substance misuse, eating disorders or physical symptoms that are medically unexplained. Other Children & Young People may have disorders such as attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder or attachment disorder.’

The Code of Practice states:

‘Some Children & Young People require special educational provision because they have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of the educational facilities generally provided. These difficulties can be age-related and may fluctuate over time. Many Children & Young People with vision impairment (VI), hearing impairment (HI) or a multi-sensory impairment (MSI) will require specialist support and/or equipment to access their learning or habilitation support. Children & young people with an MSI have a combination of vision and hearing difficulties. Some CYP with a physical disability (PD) require additional on-going support and equipment to access all the opportunities available to their peers.’

Children & young people with sensory and/or physical impairment may need additions and adaptations to the environment and to resources, in order to access learning at the appropriate level.

What is Autism?

Autism, or “Autistic Spectrum Disorder” (ASD) as the condition is officially known, is considered to be a disorder of development, characterised by impairment of language, communication and social interaction, rigidity of thought and behaviour, poor motor coordination and sensory perceptual differences.

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Possible Signs

  • Difficulties mixing with others – in school this can lead to upset as the student struggles to find friends. 
  • The student may talk excessively about a specific target. 
  • They may avoid eye contact. 
  • They may interrupt conversations with repetitive questions. 
  • The student may take little account of their listener’s age or status and treat them in an inappropriate way e.g., hugging their form tutor or shouting at the Headteacher. 
  • They may have developed an unrelated accent or repeat others in a different accent from their norm. 
  • The student may take jokes, exaggeration, and metaphors literally. An example of this may be to pull their socks off if they are told to do this to work harder. 
  • The student may misunderstand facial expressions and react inappropriately such as laughing when someone is hurt. 
  • They may have an obsession which takes over their life such as Minecraft, dinosaurs, Lego. They may spend hours collecting facts or objects related to this topic and may not be interested in work they need to complete in lessons that is not linked to the topic. 
  • They may find changes to the school routine very disturbing. 
  • The student may refuse to follow the school routines such as the one-way system or wearing the school uniform. They may develop elaborate rituals to deal with the day.

What is Dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia is also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD). It has been described as a “difficulty getting our bodies to do what we want when we want them to do it”, a difficulty that can be considered significant when it interferes with the normal range of activities expected of a child of their age. Dyspraxia can adversely affect speech and language, fine motor control and gross motor coordination.

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Possible Signs

  • The child may have handwriting difficulties. 
  • They may show difficulties with using tools, utensils, and cutlery. 
  • They may also not be able to run in a straight line, struggle with kicking, running, hopping and they could regularly bump into people. 
  • The child may have a poor attention span and get easily distracted in class which could lead to them disturbing others. 
  • The child may have difficulty understanding concepts such as ‘in’, ‘on’ and ‘in front of’. 
  • They are poorly organised. 
  • They will find it difficult to follow instructions. 
  • They can struggle with explaining their needs or answering a question. 
  • They may have difficulty with some social skills such as keeping friends, judging how to behave in company and struggle with the concept of personal belongings. 
  • The child may struggle with change and understanding how others feel

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder? (ADHD)

The term is used to describe children who most of the time have difficulty in paying attention and whose behaviour is overactive and impulsive. 

  • A neurobiological disorder that occurs in 5% of school children. 
  • An imbalance in the brain’s neurotransmitter. Dopamine affects the parts of the brain which controls reflective thought. 
  • ADHD is a medical condition with a medical diagnosis. Treatment may involve medication or behavioural therapy. 
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Signs and Symptoms:

Inattention – 

  • Does not attend 
  • Fails to finish tasks 
  • Can’t organise 
  • Avoids sustained effort 
  • Loses things, is “forgetful” 
  • Easily distracted

Hyperactivity – 

  • Fidgets 
  • Leaves seat in class 
  • Runs/climbs excessively 
  • Cannot work quietly 
  • Always “on the go” 
  • Talks excessively

Impulsivity – 

  • Talks excessively 
  • Blurts out answers 
  • Cannot wait their turn 
  • Interrupts others 
  • Intrudes on others


Characteristics You Can Expect to See:



  • High levels of environmental awareness
  • Responds well then highly motivated
  • Flexible – ready to change strategy readily
  • Tireless when motivated
  • Goal orientated
  • Imaginative
  • Short attention span with periods of intense focus
  • Distractible
  • Poor planning
  • Disorientated sense of time
  • Impatient
  • Daydreamer

What are Moderate Learning Difficulties? (MLD)

Children & young people with MLD will have a significantly lower academic attainment than that of their peers in many areas of the curriculum despite academic support and differentiation. Generally, they will have difficulty acquiring literacy and numeracy skills along with other difficulties such as, associated speech and language delay, low self-esteem, low levels of concentration and underdeveloped social skills.

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Possible Signs

  • General developmental delay. 
  • They do not find learning easy, which affects their self-esteem and may result in poor behaviour. 
  • They have short attention spans. 
  • The child may present difficulties with basic literacy and numeracy and their reasoning and coordination skills could be underdeveloped. 
  • They often have poor working memory. 
  • They may struggle with some social skills when interacting with their peers. 
  • A child with MLD often have an IQ between 50 and 70.

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty (SpLD) that alters the way the brain processes the written word and is characterised by difficulties in recognising, spelling, and decoding words. As such, children and people with dyslexia also have problems with reading comprehension. Dyslexia can impact on academic progress more widely, causing a delay in, or lack of advancement of:

  • Development of language (mispronunciation of words)
  • Developmental milestones (walking, crawling later than their peers)
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Concentration span

Ability to sequence and order things (inc sense of direction)
Children and young people with dyslexic tendencies will have many strengths as well as experiencing some challenges with learning. Children may demonstrate some of these difficulties as a process of natural development & maturation or through the lack of exposure to the written word and the concepts of literacy. Dyslexia is considered in cases where these difficulties are persistent over time and occur despite adequate intervention.

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Possible Signs

  • Reading, writing and/or spelling ability are well below expectations for a child’s age.
  • Oral language abilities more advanced than academic abilities.
  • Difficulty recalling single words.
  • Lack of fluency with reading & writing.
  • Slow reading speed
  • Difficulty reading aloud
  • Difficulty with rhyming words
  • Difficulty with spelling words
  • Difficulty remembering number facts
  • May reverse letters/words and/or numbers beyond the age of 8
  • Difficulty identifying direction and identifying left & right
  • May experience fine motor difficulties such as lacing, buttoning, threading
  • Difficulties discriminating letters, sounds, numbers, and sequences
  • Difficulty with organisation of written & spoken language
  • Difficulty forming letter shapes and poorly formed handwriting
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • May have difficulty with emotional regulation

What is Dyscalculia?

Children with dyscalculia often have other developmental disorders such as dyslexia, or ADHD. This is usually because of a poor working memory.

Children and young people with dyscalculia often find it difficult to count backwards and have difficulty remembering number patterns despite lots of practice. Equally, they may struggle with estimation and become anxious and avoidant when challenged in maths lessons.

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Possible Signs

Difficulties with:

  • Learning maths facts
  • Developing maths problem – solving skills
  • long-term memory for maths functions
  • Learning & remembering maths vocabulary
  • Measuring
  • Playing games that require strategic skills