How to spot and find help if you think your child has a learning difficulty


Navigating your child through the peaks and troughs of school life can be hard enough. Notice they don’t quite seem to be keeping up with classmates, and it can add an extra layer of worry.

How do you know when and how to seek help for SEN? 

While it might be the first time exploring concerns for you, schools are increasingly used to spotting, discussing and supporting learning difficulties – so don’t be afraid to speak up. Put aside concerns about them being singled out as unusual or negatively affected by a label. Over 1.5 million pupils have some form of special educational need in England and it’s estimated that one in ten pupils in every classroom has Dyslexia.  

Your first point of contact should always be your child’s class teacher or form tutor. They will know whether there’s anything in the wider school picture that may be impacting on their learning. They are also the best person to then seek advice from the school’s special educational needs coordinator (SENDCo) who may have access to in-school screening tools. 

Do you need a specialist assessment if you think your child has learning difficulties? 

If your concerns are shared by the school, a specialist assessment may be the next step. A referral to an educational psychologist to assess learning and behavioural difficulties; a speech and language therapist for children with communication issues; or an occupational therapist if a pupil finds gross or fine motor skills difficult. Educational psychologists can mention but can’t diagnose conditions such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder or ADHD. These conditions have to be diagnosed by a medical professional. 

An educational psychologist’s report (EP) is essential if your child’s needs are considered severe enough to require an Educational, Health and Care plan (EHC). This is a formal document of a child’s needs that compels a local authority to provide and fund appropriate support. In 2023, only 4% of pupils had needs that required an EHC; the rest were registered as ‘requires SEN support’, the level of which depends on both the child’s specific learning difficulty and the school’s resources. An EP can also be part of the evidence required to support children getting extra time in exams (usually 25%) or other access arrangements such as using a keyboard or support from scribes or readers. 


What does an Educational Psychology Assessment include? 

With numbers of children diagnosed with SEN rising by nearly 90,000 in the last year, waiting lists can be long and schools may only be able to commission an EP for pupils with the most urgent need. Parents can explore booking a private assessment: these cost from £600-£1000 and it can still take months to get an appointment. Keep the school fully informed and always share the final report. An EP is very detailed and, crucially, doesn't just focus on issues and problems.  

“The report will also contain details of your child's strengths,” says Mrs Joanna Blair, a highly experienced SENDCo at Beechen Cliff School in Bath. “It’s key that children who are experiencing difficulty with learning are aware of their strengths and that these are celebrated and utilised both at home and school.” 

How to discuss a learning difficulty with your child

Indeed, best selling books such as Dyslexia is my Superpower encourage children to see ‘normal’ reading and writing skills as a trade-off for creativity and problem solving. Rest assured: schools get this too, and teachers – aka superheroes without capes – know that difficulties in the classroom can be overcome. SENDCo Joanna Blair says: “Do make your child aware that a specific learning difficulty such as Dyslexia is not related to a person's intellectual ability; rather it means that reasonable adjustments are needed to help them achieve their aspirations.” 



Types of Specific Learning Difficulties  

Problems with reading, writing and spelling including letters seeming too small; words jumbling together or difficulty keeping the sequence of letters in your head.  

Affects maths skills including difficulty in recognising numbers or placing things in order.  

Also known as Development Coordination Difficulty, it causes issues with gross or fine motor skills such as throwing, jumping, hand/eye coordination and clumsiness.   

Affects only fine motor skills and signs can be unusual body or hand position when writing and mixing cursive and print letters. 

Speed of Processing Issues 
Slow processing is a below average pace of absorbing and responding to information, planning is often skipped and it may give the impression that the child is not listening.