Special educational needs (SEN) and disability quite often, but not always, overlap and interconnect. Children and young people can have SEN but no disability and vice versa. While others may have both, which can mean they have complex needs. Here, Seashell sets out to explain the relationship between disability and special educational needs.

Before we explain the relationship between disability and special educational needs, let’s take a minute to familiarise ourselves with the separate definitions for special educational needs (SEN) and disability.

What are special educational needs (SEN)?

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice (2015) defines special educational needs as:

“A child or young person has SEN if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her. A child of compulsory school age or a young person has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she: has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age or has a disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream-post 16 institutions.”

What is a disability?

The Equality Act (2010) defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that: “has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on a person’s ability to do normal daily activities.” The Act classifies “substantial” as being more than “minor or trivial”. For example, it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task, such as getting dressed. Meanwhile, “long-term” is defined as 12 months or more.

This definition includes sensory impairments, such as hearing or sight loss, and long-term health conditions like diabetes, epilepsy and cancer. Children and young people with these types of conditions don’t necessarily have SEN. But wherever a disabled child or young person requires special educational provision, they will be covered by the SEN definition. Now, let’s explore this relationship between SEN and disability a little deeper.

The relationship between disability and special educational needs

The special educational needs of children and young people are generally thought of in the following four broad areas of need and support:

Communication and interaction
Cognition and learning
Social, emotional and mental health
Sensory and/or physical needs

Individual children often have needs that cut across all these areas. These needs may also change over time. Similarly, there is a significant overlap between children and young people with a disability and those with special educational needs. As such, a child or young person can be defined as having a special educational need (SEN), having a disability, or having both a special educational need and a disability (SEND).

Seashell’s child-centred approach to SEND provision

SEN and SEND provision is all about providing every child with the best chance to succeed in their learning. Seashell supports children and young people with complex learning difficulties, disabilities and additional communication needs from across the UK to learn how to express themselves; engage with the world around them; become more independent; and live safe, creative and fulfilling lives.

We provide education, care and support for people aged from two to 25 years, at our outstanding school and college, our residential homes and through our community facilities as well as through services that we offer beyond our Cheadle Hulme site. Our facilities are amongst some of the best in the UK for children and young people with complex special educational needs and disabilities, as well as their parents, carers and families.

For more information about Seashell and the work we do, please get in touch on 0161 610 0100 or email info@seashelltrust.org.uk. You can make a difference today by making a donation to Seashell. With your support, you are helping to change the lives of the children and young people we care for. Thank you!