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Tips for parents on how to identify signs that your child may have special educational needs

It can be a very worrying time for parents if you suspect that your child may have some kind of special educational need. Whether you suspect they may have learning or behavioural difficulties, it can be hard to know where to turn for education advice for parents. You will find a few tips below as to possible behaviours to look out for, as signs that your child may indeed have some form of special need. These lists are not comprehensive, as no two children are the same, but if you observe a number of the behaviours or issues by one of the lists, it might be worth raising this concern with your child’s school and asking them to investigate your concerns. Our top education advice for parents is to d not sit back and worry until the next parents’ evening, contact your child’s form teacher or tutor straight away and ask for a meeting to talk through your concerns.


These are some of the characteristics of a child with dyslexia:

  • Spaces between the words on a page are difficult to recognise, meaning words jumble together.

  • The print seems too small.

  • Reading is painstaking and takes a long time.

  • It is difficult to find your place on a page if you look away.

  • It is difficult to keep the sequence of letters in your head.

  • Concentration span seems short, as the effort involved is great.

  • Maths and language learning may be difficult.

  • Mental processing takes longer.

  • They have poor short-term memory, personal organisation skills and/or poor sense of direction.

  • They can be slow in information processing, motor skills processing, left-right orientation and time awareness can be poor.

  • Copying information by a classroom board appears very difficult.

  • They may possibly have low self-esteem.

  • They may demonstrate high verbal intelligence and articulation will appear ahead of their age. They may prefer to engage in conversation with adults instead of their peers.


These are some of the characteristics of a child with dyspraxia:

  • Clumsiness – dropping things or tripping up.

  • Disorganised with their belongings.

  • Very little or no sense of time.

  • Poor body coordination.

  • Little sense of direction.

  • Very short attention span.

  • Difficulty in carrying out precise tasks which require coordination and accuracy for example using scissors, can openers, writing neatly, tying bows, riding a bicycle.

  • Difficulty working safely and accurately in a laboratory and kitchen.

  • Some difficulty in predicting the consequences of their actions.

  • Demonstrating behaviour which is reactive and/or spontaneous or appearing out of control.

  • Lack of awareness of the personal space of others.

Attention Difficulties (ADHD, ADD)

These are some of the characteristics of a child with attention difficulties:

  • Their mind is always ‘buzzing with lots of different things’ and they find it hard to concentrate on one thing at a time.

  • Behaviour is consistently impulsive, inattentive and often overactive.

  • They appear to find it hard to sustain attention, listen and follow instructions and to organise themselves or their belongings.

  • They may be forgetful, blurt out answers erratically, make inappropriate comments and/or interrupt.

  • They may fidget, leave their seat in class or sit and appear to gaze into space.

  • They appear to have difficulty with sequential organisation of thought.

Specific Language Impairment

These are some of the characteristics of a child with specific language impairment:

  • They display some difficulties when processing speech sounds and using them correctly.

  • They tend to confuse or substitute sounds.

  • They have difficulty organising words into sentences; muddling verb tenses, and have difficulties with conjunctions and propositions.

  • They may sound like much younger children.

  • They have difficulty recalling the right word to say what they mean.

  • They have difficulty remembering the meaning of new vocabulary, and in understanding new concepts and ideas.

  • They may have difficulty in knowing which language/words to choose to describe different social situations and feelings.

Asperger’s Syndrome

These are some of the characteristics of a child with Asperger’s syndrome:

  • Difficulty with social interaction, imagination and flexible thinking.

  • Difficulty with abstract concepts.

  • They may take language literally.

  • Pieces of information may remain ‘disconnected’.

  • They may seem rude.

  • They find it difficult to make small talk and talk at people rather than to them.

  • There may be a lack of awareness in turn-taking and in interpreting body language, facial expressions, gestures and vocal volume.

  • Eye contact may be avoided.

  • They may have difficulty appreciating others’ thoughts and feelings.

  • They may find humour difficult.

  • They may be obsessively tidy.

  • They may have idiosyncratic interests.

High-functioning (or mild) Autism

These are some of the characteristics of a child with (high-functioning) autism:

  • They may find eye contact very difficult.

  • They may prefer to be alone and don’t like other children invading their personal space.

  • They may flap their hands when upset.

  • They may have delayed speech.

  • They may be very literal, which makes it difficult for them to make friends and understand instructions given orally.

  • They may find change difficult.

  • They may be repetitive.

Our education advice for parents

We provide education advice for parents on educational assessments and support for children with special needs. Please contact us to find out more.

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