There are approximately 351,000 children aged between 0 and 17 with a learning difficulty in the
UK. Most children with special educational needs (SEN) go to mainstream schools, with under
10% attending schools that designed for the benefit of SEN students.
The most troubling misconception that surrounds learning difficulties is that they limit one’s
intelligence. This is absolutely not true. Having a learning difficulty influences many things – the
way you engage, the way you process information, and the way you might see the world around
you. But it imperative that you understand it does not make a person less intelligent or less
As a young person with asperges syndrome, I struggled immensely throughout my seventeen
years of education. Like the majority of young people with a SEN diagnosis, I attended average
state schools, from primary through to university, and I would like to talk a little about my own
The first hurdle I really faced was a difficulty grasping language and speech. I could not form
coherent words or sentences. The development of my speech was far lagging my peers’ – so
much that I joined primary school a term late due to my parents’ concerns about me fitting in,
and worrying that I might not be ready to start proper schooling. Regardless, I joined school and
muddled through pretty well, as children tend to when they are too naïve to realise that they are
different from the rest. I had an assessment with CAHMS, who diagnosed me with dyspraxia,
although this revelation made little to no impact on my daily life and education. I still attended
the same school and I still stuck out like a sore thumb, until I finally started being able to form
proper sentences at the age of seven.
Despite prevailing my struggles with speech, I remained in the bottom set throughout primary
school, as I probably should have done as a child who would have felt out of their comfort zone
otherwise. The bottom set was comfortable, approachable, and I did not mind the peculiar
insinuation that we were the ‘least intelligent’ students in class. It felt like the right place for me
to be. In bottom set, you were given extra attention and additional help, two things I desperately
relied on as an underconfident young pupil.
The one thing I did not expect was to do so well in my SATS – but, as I have said before, having
special educational needs really does not mean that you lack intelligence, or even that you lack
anything. It just so means that you need some extra guidance in order to do your best and reach
your full potential. I hated that revelation, however, as it meant that I was suddenly thrown into
the highest set going in to high school. I was not ready for this change, emotionally,
educationally, or mentally. As well as suffering from all of the usual anxieties one does in their
first year of high school, I felt incredibly under pressure in a learning environment where you
were expected to exceed. I was not the kind of student who could naturally thrive; I never would
have been that student. I needed a hand to hold, some extra help, and a lot of reassurance, as
most children with special educational needs do. I did not do well in the competitive
environment of the intellectually elite, and after my first year, I dropped out of high school
entirely so that I could be home schooled. The anxiety was crippling.
It was during my year of home education that that I finally received my Asperger’s diagnosis, and
it was that diagnosis, and the self-understanding that came with it, that put me back on the right
path. I returned to school a year later. This school, however, whilst still only a normal state
school, had a profound understanding of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, meaning that I was given
the appropriate support and guidance right up until my GCSE’S.
It was the encouragement provided to me in high school that resulted in me studying my A-
Levels at college, and it was at college where I finally found my confidence and footing as a
student with special educational needs. It was in college where I was finally identified as being –
not less intellectually capable – but simply in need of a little extra help. That help was given to
me in the form of getting additional time in exams, as well as being allowed a separate room, a
reader, and a laptop to type out my answers. The greatest influence of all, however, was having a
lecturer with Dyspraxia, who had an extensive, personal insight to my own experience and the
kind of things that help, like sensory stimulus and extra little nudges of aid where needed.
Now, I feel extraordinarily privileged to be in a place where I am writing for a company that
really matters; one that I know personally can make a profound difference to SEN students’
confidence, attitude, and education.
There are many ways in which you can make teaching a child with SEN easier (for both yourself
and the student). These include, but are not limited to,
Visual aids. Did you know that the brain processes images faster and better than it can
processes words? This is why, at Oaka Books, we make sure that all of our learning
materials are easy on the eye. We use illustrations and bright colours so that the
information is easier to follow.
Positive enforcements. Think regular breaks, rewards, and lots of recognition when the
student is doing well. A negative attitude or low self esteem is far more likely to hinder
one’s learning than you might think. Our experts at Oaka believe that the most affective
timetable consists of twenty minutes of learning succeeded by a ten-minute break. This
way, motivation is kept high, and the interest of the student is maintained for longer.
1:1 Where possible, give your SEN students particular attention. Take them aside, away
from the pressure and fuss of a classroom, and check how they are doing on a more
personal basis. People with SEN tend to find 1:1 interactions more comfortable,
particularly in a learning environment. They will be more likely to tell you of any
struggles they are experiencing in this situation than when their peers are around them.
Small steps. We believe that the most efficient way to revise is by breaking the
information into small, digestible chunks. If you were climbing Everest you wouldn’t
charge up at full pelt with no warm-up; learning is much the same, you should take
everything one step at a time.
Games. As discussed in last week’s blog post, interactive learning is imperative for all.
Oaka Books’ learning materials are an incredible example of interactive learning that is
catered toward SEN students. From our revision booklets that include miniature games
and activities, to our fully fledged boardgames – Oaka Books make learning fun and
enticing for everyone and anyone.