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I think my child might have special needs

Child Has Special Needs Panel

If you think your child might have a special educational need or disability, it can be worrying. But there is lots of support available.

Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) can affect a child or young person's ability to learn. They can affect their:

  • behaviour or ability to socialise, for example they struggle to make friends
  • reading and writing, for example because they have dyslexia
  • ability to understand things
  • concentration levels, for example because they have ADHD
  • physical ability

Who to talk to

If you think your child may have special educational needs, contact the SEN co-ordinator, or 'SENCO' in your child's school or nursery.

Contact Plymouth City Council if your child is not in a school or nursery.

There is also independent advice and support available through Plymouth Information, Advice and Support for SEND.

Support your child can receive

Your child may be eligible for:

  • SEN support - support given in school, like speech therapy
  • an education, health and care plan - a plan of care for children and young people aged up to 25 who have more complex needs

Children under 5

SEN support for children under 5 includes:

  • a written progress check when your child is 2 years old
  • a child health visitor carrying out a health check for your child if they're aged 2 to 3
  • a written assessment in the summer term of your child's first year of primary school
  • making reasonable adjustments for disabled children, like providing aids like tactile signs

Nurseries, playgroups and childminders registered with Ofsted follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework. The framework makes sure that there's support in place for children with SEND.

Talk to a doctor or health adviser if you think your child has SEND but they do not go to a nursery, playgroup or childminder. They'll tell you what support options are available.

Children between 5 and 15

Talk to the teacher or the SEN co-ordinator (SENCO) if you think your child needs:

  • a special learning programme
  • extra help from a teacher or assistant
  • to work in a smaller group
  • observation in class or at break     
  • help taking part in class activities
  • extra encouragement in their learning, for example to ask questions or to try something they find difficult
  • help communicating with other children
  • support with physical or personal care difficulties, for example eating, getting around school safely or using the toilet

Young people aged 16 or over in further education

Contact the college before your child starts further education to make sure that they can meet your child's needs.

The college and the Council will talk to your child about the support they need.

Extra help

An Education, Health and Care Plan is for children and young people aged up to 25 who need more support than is available through special educational needs support.

Education, Health and Care Plan identify educational, health and social needs and set out the additional support to meet those needs.

Requesting an Education, Health and Care Assessment

You can ask the Council to carry out an assessment if you think your child needs an Education, Health and Care Plan.

A young person can request an assessment themselves if they're aged 16 to 25.

A request can also be made by anyone else who thinks an assessment may be necessary, including doctors, health visitors, teachers, parents and family friends.

If they decide to carry out an assessment you may be asked for:

  • any reports from your child's school, nursery or childminder
  • doctors' assessments of your child
  • a letter from you about your child's needs

Creating an Education, Health and Care Plan

  1. The council will create a draft Education, Health and Care Plan and send you a copy.
  2. You have at least 15 days to comment, including if you want to ask that your child goes to a specialist needs school or specialist college.
  3. The Council has 20 weeks from the date they receive the request for the assessment to give you the final Education, Health and Care Plan.

Disagreeing with a decision

You can challenge the Council about:

  • their decision to not carry out an assessment
  • their decision to not create an Education, Health and Care Plan
  • the special educational support in the Education, Health and Care Plan
  • the school named in the Education, Health and Care Plan

If you cannot resolve the problem with the Council, you can appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Tribunal.

Personal budgets

You may be able to get a personal budget for your child if they have an Education, Health and Care Plan or have been told that they need one.

It allows you to have a say in how to spend the money on support for your child.

There are 3 ways you can use your personal budget. You can have:

  • direct payments made into your account - you buy and manage services yourself
  • an arrangement with the Council or school where they hold the money for you but you still decide how to spend it (sometimes called 'notional arrangements')
  • third-party arrangements - you choose someone else to manage the money for you

You can have a combination of all 3 options.

Independent support for children of all ages

Independent supporters can help you and your child through the new SEN assessment process, including:

  • replacing a statement of special educational needs with a new Education, Health and Care Plan
  • moving a child from a learning difficulty assessment (LDA) to an Education, Health and Care Plan

Quick guides

Monitoring developmental milestones

As a parent, tracking your child's development across key milestone categories provides insight into their progress and any potential delays requiring support.

Communication milestones

From coos and babbling to first words and two-word phrases, communication milestones reflect how your child is acquiring and using language. Lack of age-appropriate vocalisations or difficulty following simple directions can signal issues like autism or speech delay.

Cognitive milestones

Cognitive milestones cover attention, memory, problem-solving and conceptual skills. Struggles with pretend play, figuring out puzzles, or understanding cause-and-effect relationships may indicate a thinking or learning disorder.

Motor milestones

Physical milestones measure gross motor skills like sitting, crawling and walking, as well as fine motor dexterity for self-feeding and manipulating objects. Low muscle tone or poor coordination can point to cerebral palsy or other neuromuscular disorders.

Social-emotional milestones

Social milestones reflect how your child engages with others and regulates their emotions. Delayed bonding, isolation, extreme reactions to sensory stimuli, or limited eye contact are some potential red flags for autism, anxiety or sensory processing challenges.

Routinely comparing your child's skills against developmental charts can help identify special needs early when intervention is most beneficial. Trust your intuition if you have concerns.


Spotting signs of possible delays

While every child develops at their own pace, certain behaviours may raise red flags about potential lags requiring further evaluation. Trust your instincts if you notice any of the following signs:

Regression or loss of skills

Has your child lost previously acquired abilities like making eye contact, babbling, or grasping toys? Regression can indicate developmental, sensory or behavioural disorders. Sudden loss of skills warrants a professional assessment.

Lack of expected progress

If your child is significantly behind on major milestones like walking or talking despite intervention efforts, an underlying issue may be holding back their development. Progress lags confirm the need for support services.

Atypical behaviours

Unusual behaviours like hand flapping, lack of response to their name, or extreme reactions to sounds/textures, can signal autism, sensory disorders or behavioural conditions. Documenting atypical behaviours helps identify appropriate therapies.

Delayed social interest

Does your child prefer to play alone for extended periods? Limited interest in interacting with others, making eye contact, or engaging with toys may reflect social challenges requiring help.

Don't downplay your concerns. Early identification leads to effective support. Track milestones and seek guidance if you notice any developmental red flags.


Gathering key information

If you suspect your child may have a developmental delay or disorder, there are important steps to take to gather insights into their needs.

Track observations

Keep a journal detailing your child's behaviours during daily activities. Note any concerning interactions or responses. Look for patterns. Detailed observations help illustrate your concerns.

Conduct hearing and vision testing

Rule out potential physical causes first. Schedule thorough eye exams and hearing tests which may reveal correctable issues impeding development.

Discuss with your paediatrician

Bring your observations to your child's doctor along with any records of milestone progress and past interventions. Ask for referrals for specialists like neurologists, therapists or developmental paediatricians.

Pursue formal evaluations

Standardised testing by early childhood experts can confirm or rule out developmental disabilities and disorders. These formal assessments are key to accessing support services.

Arm yourself with as much information as possible. Concrete examples, medical records and expert testing results help paint a clearer picture of your child's challenges and needs.


Accessing help and support

If evaluations confirm your child has a developmental delay or disorder, timely support provides the best opportunity to help them thrive.

Early intervention services

Programs like Birth to Three offer instruction, therapy and family training tailored to your child's needs. Starting intervention early has proven outcomes.

Targeted therapies

Occupational, speech, physical and behavioural therapists address specific skill deficits using play-based techniques. Consistency is key.

Special education preschool

Adapted learning environments, multi-disciplinary teams and Individualised Education Programs (IEPs) provide focused support. Socialisation opportunities with peers are also beneficial.

Assistive technology

From communication devices to weighted blankets, various tools and equipment can enrich development. Consult with therapists on appropriate technologies.

Connect with other parents

Sharing experiences and resources with parents on a similar journey offers solidarity and hope. Don't go it alone. Leverage professional expertise and services to help your child reach their full potential.


Frequently asked questions

How can I tell if my child's development is on track compared to other kids their age?

Track your child against developmental milestone charts for their age group. Look for any lags in language, social, cognitive, movement and self-care skills. Discuss concerns with your health visitor or doctor. Early intervention is best.

What are some common signs of a potential developmental delay or special needs in young children?

Missing milestones, regression or loss of skills, limited eye contact, lack of interest/engagement, excessively repetitive behaviours, difficulty building relationships, not responding to their name, and delays in speech development can signal issues.

Should I ask my nursery or childminder if they have any concerns about my child?

Yes, ask those who interact with your child regularly if they have observed any possibly atypical behaviours or delays onsite. They see many children and can help pinpoint areas to get assessed.

When should I take my child to see a paediatrician?

If your child is missing milestones or you have ongoing concerns, discuss a referral to a paediatrician, child psychologist or specialist with your GP or health visitor. Early assessment is key to accessing support.

How can I find out what support services my child is entitled to?

Contact Plymouth Information, Advice and Support for SEND.

What types of professionals might be involved in assessing or supporting my child?

Pediatricians, educational psychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, clinical psychologists, early intervention teachers and more play a role in identifying needs.



Plymouth's Local Offer is organised into four main categories covering the following age ranges:

 Plymouth Local Offer homepage



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