SEN: a defining issue

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    The need for greater awareness of SEN in all schools

    I’m not ignorant about special needs. My mother was a special needs support assistant for seven years, I have studied autism as part of my psychology AS Level, and my sixth form has a Foundation Pathways programme, which means that I see people with SEN every day. I understand that the term special educational needs covers an incredibly wide range of disorders, learning difficulties and health conditions. Yet I still feel like I don’t know enough.

    Many people, though, never come into contact with any form of special need and they can be totally ignorant on the subject. Why is this? I believe it is because no-one takes the time to tell them about SEN. Parents can be oblivious to SEN and teachers aren’t instructed to explain the facts to their pupils, so how can anyone expect to be well informed?

    This ignorance can lead to people judging those with a disability or special need, needlessly using words such as “retard” in a derogatory way, without realising that the word wasn’t originally a term of abuse at all. Today, though, such labels can be deeply hurtful as they are used to highlight the differences between someone with SEN and supposedly “normal” people. What is normal though? It is almost impossible to define, so how can you say that people don’t fit into this category?

    Having learning difficulties, physical issues or difficulties with any aspect of life shouldn’t define you. You should be the person to define you, not the childish labels of others. Too many words have now been deemed politically incorrect because of childish people. Those who don’t know enough about a subject often mock it. Many people don’t even know that SEN stands for special educational needs, and that’s only a simple abbreviation.

    This is why I think there should be greater awareness about SEN. It’s not necessary to understand all the scientific facts and statistics about SEN to know that it is not a rarity to meet someone with a form of special needs and that they should be treated with as much respect as anyone else. More emphasis is being placed today on introducing children to different cultures to prevent racism, so why not do this for SEN too? If children are fully informed before the darker side of society introduces them to offensive terms and ideas, they are more likely to make better choices about how they treat others.

    It’s hard to imagine where to begin when tackling such a broad issue, but I believe that we could start by twinning mainstream schools with special schools. Weekly meetings could help boost awareness of SEN, not only in children, but perhaps also in parents, who may be oblivious to many of the issues involved. If having no contact with children with SEN can cloud people’s judgement, it is only common sense to provide people with this sorely needed contact. Mainstream school children could visit special schools, where they could be taught about specialist, unfamiliar equipment (such as that found in a multi-sensory room) by the very people who use it. And who better to teach understanding of SEN than those with personal experience?

    By enabling all children to communicate and become friends with children with SEN at an early age, we might begin a cycle that could vastly improve the way people with SEN are viewed in society, and portrayed in the media. Whilst it’s impossible to eradicate all ignorance from the world, people may begin to understand that a person with SEN is not defined by what others think, what disability they have or what they can and can’t do; they are defined, as we all should be, by their actions.

    Further information

    Sophie McGarry attends the sixth form at St Christopher’s CE School in Lancashire:
    www.st-christophers.lancs.sch.uk

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