This A-Z of special needs is a quick reference guide for all busy SENCOs, teachers, teaching assistants and mentors. Each entry gives a brief definition, outlines the characteristics of the condition and suggests ways of supporting the child in the classroom. There are also definitions of roles and organisations involved in the sphere of special needs. At the bottom of each entry you will find links to sources of further information.

Fine motor skills refer to the ability to use the smaller muscles in the body for precise tasks. These activities will help to develop fine motor skills for writing, drawing, using scissors, etc.

The terms ADD and ADHD are medical diagnoses and describe a syndrome of emotional or behavioural difficulties, which may include extreme impulsiveness, inattentiveness and continuous motor activity.

Aphasia is the inability to express thoughts in words, or the inability to understand thoughts expressed in the spoken or written words of others.

Developmental verbal apraxia is the inability to coordinate the lip, tongue and throat muscles in order to form sounds into words.

There are three main types of juvenile arthritis: pauci-articular, poly-articular and systemic.

Children with Asperger syndrome display similar characteristics to those of autistic children. They have problems with communication, social relationships and making imaginative responses.

Children with asthma have airways that narrow and can become clogged with mucus as a reaction to various triggers.

Audiologists are based in hospitals and are qualified in assessing levels of hearing and hearing impairment.

This condition affects a child’s ability to socialise and to develop speech and language.

Behaviour support teachers are employed by the LEA and are part of a behaviour support service.

‘Brittle bones’ is a range of conditions which cause the bones to break very easily.

This is a person who cares for a child for whom the social services have parental responsibility.

This is the person within the LEA who coordinates assessments and provision, and prepares statements of special educational needs.

Cerebral palsy is the generic name for a group of disorders affecting muscles and movement.

The Child and Adult Mental Health Unit is concerned with various aspects of mental health.

This is sometimes called the Child and Family Centre or the Child and Family Therapeutic Service.

All schools must have a child protection officer or coordinator and a back-up child protection officer or coordinator.

Child psychiatrists are doctors who specialise in childhood mental disorders and related problems.

Child psychotherapists tend to work with the most disturbed children.

Childminders have to be approved and registered by social services.

Clinical psychologists have trained to develop an understanding of how people’s minds, abilities and behaviours develop.

Community paediatricians are based in hospitals or community care trusts and are employed by the NHS.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that affects a number of organs in the body (especially the lungs and pancreas) by clogging them with thick, sticky mucus. This also affects the child’s digestion.

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which a person’s normal hormonal mechanisms do not control their blood sugar levels effectively.

Down syndrome is a genetic condition whereby a child is born with an extra chromosome.

Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability involving maths skills.

Dysgraphia is a processing problem causing difficulty in remembering and using the correct sequence of muscle movements in order to write

Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that affects the ability to read and spell. About 60 per cent of children with dyslexia also have trouble with the sounds that make up words.

Dyspraxia is a specific learning difficulty. Children with dyspraxia have problems with motor coordination and often appear clumsy when moving around the classroom.

Educational psychologists are qualified teachers who have taught in schools and have then gone on to undertake further training in psychology.

They will spend time in school on a regular basis monitoring attendance by checking registers, but they have other roles too.

This term is used when a child’s ongoing behavioural difficulties appear to have their root cause in emotional or possibly social problems.

Who are the parents who evade all forms of contact from schools and why do they choose to exist at the fringes of their child’s education? Jo McShane investigates

Epilepsy is neither an illness nor a disease, but rather a tendency of the brain to be triggered to cause a spasm, a seizure or a fit, when neurones malfunction temporarily.

These are sometimes called Parents’ Centres.

Family support workers work alongside social workers.

Fragile X is thought to be the most common inherited form of learning disability.

Glue ear involves inflammation, either chronic or acute, and an accumulation of fluid in the middle ear.

Health visitors are registered nurses who have undergone further specialist training.

There are two types of hearing impairment or loss – conductive and sensori-neural.

Most children with heart disorders have a congenital condition which means that the disorder has been present since birth.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that prevents the immune system from working properly, making it less effective at fighting infections. AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is the term used when loss of or damage to immune function caused by HIV has been diagnosed.

This service is financed by the local authority to provide tuition for children who are unable to attend school for any reason, for example prolonged illness, recuperation from an accident, permanent exclusion, school phobia.

Hydrocephalus is a condition in which a watery fluid is produced continuously throughout the brain.

The independent parental supporter can be a relative, a friend or a member of a voluntary support group willing to offer parents advice on special needs.

Angela Youngman looks at some innovative ideas to get children moving

A learning mentor is an adult who works with a specific child on a one-to-one basis and offers personal support.

The term LSA is widely used for teaching assistants (TAs) who work in classrooms with teachers supporting children with special needs.

The learning support service is usually provided by the LEA.

The learning support service is usually provided by the local authority.

Learning support teachers usually have additional qualifications in teaching pupils with specific learning difficulties like dyslexia.

One third of all cases of childhood cancer are leukaemia, which is a disease of the white blood cells.

ME is a chronic disabling illness of the immune and central nervous system that affects children as well as adults.

Children with moderate learning difficulties (also known as global learning difficulties) have a general developmental delay. They have difficulties with learning across all areas of the school curriculum.

In education, the multidisciplinary team is a group made up of several specialists who assess children’s difficulties.

Muscular dystrophy is a genetic, neuromuscular condition in which muscle cells break down and are gradually lost. Some types of muscular dystrophy are degenerative and ultimately severely disabling with a marked impact on life expectancy, whilst others cause only a relatively mild disability.

The named officer or case worker is an officer of the local education authority who keeps parents informed throughout the process of statutory assessment for a statement of special educational needs.

Occupational therapists help children with special educational needs, elderly people who need help to function at home, and anyone who has a disability and who needs help to gain maximum independent function.

Opportunity groups are pre-school settings which are set up in most areas to provide appropriate support for children with special needs or with difficult home circumstances.

This is a service set up by or with the support of the local authority, but which must be independent from it, to provide parents with information, advice and support.

Peripatetic teachers and tutors are usually employed by the loacl authority.

Children’s physiotherapists are state registered and are usually employed by the NHS via health trusts.

The play therapist may work in a child guidance centre or hospital.

Portage is the pre-school support system for children with severe special needs or whose development has been significantly delayed.

Prader-Willi syndrome is a chromosomal disorder which affects both sexes.

Any primary school teachers out there with workshop ideas? I’m organising a few Antarctica mornings for local primaries and I’m trying to work out what to do

Michael Farrell considers provision for pupils with moderate learning difficulties (MLD)

Dilwyn Hunt, adviser for RE and G&T, explores the idea of having a more philosophical approach to religious education

The governors of the school must designate a responsible person, who is usually the headteacher, or possibly the special needs coordinator or the special needs governor.

The work of the school doctor is closely related to the community paediatrician’s role, except that in some areas the school doctor is exclusively employed to visit schools and assess children’s needs.

School nurses are trained nurses employed by the health service.

Most children have days when they do not want to go to school, but school phobia is more serious than this. It can be identified as a persistent and frequent fear of attending school. It is often emotional in origin and is usually a social anxiety.

Children with selective mutism are physically capable of normal speech and comprehension but choose not to speak in certain situations.

Anne Clarke, principal of Benton Park School, discusses the value of departmental SEFs

Semantic pragmatic disorder is a communication disorder, which crosses the boundaries of both specific language impairment and autistic spectrum disorder.

Social workers are employed by the social services department of the local authority. They have responsibility for child protection issues, children in need and looked after children.

The special needs adviser is a member of the advice and development team for your local authority.

The special needs coordinator is the teacher with overall responsibility for coordinating provision for children with special educational needs in the school and for monitoring their progress.

Governing bodies are required to nominate one of their members to have special responsibility for special needs.

This is the group responsible for making decisions about statutory assessment within the local authority.

Speech and language impairment can vary a great deal from mild difficulties to severe problems with the understanding and use of language.

Speech and language therapy, in most cases, is considered to be an educational provision and is usually funded jointly by the local authority and the NHS trust.

Spina bifida is one of the most common congenital disabilities, affecting approximately one in 500 births.

Stammering, also known as stuttering, is a condition in which the sufferer speaks hesitantly or in a stumbling and jerky way. Stammering varies, both in the way it affects different people and in its severity.

The member of staff who is likely to be most involved on a day-to-day basis with supporting individuals or groups of children in classrooms.

Tourette syndrome is a hereditary neurological disorder, characterised by repeated involuntary movements or sounds called tics.

Visual impairment – having little or no sight – has been classified in a number of ways.