Chapter 4: Early signs of additional support

It is important for children’s additional support needs to be identified as early as possible so that appropriate support can be put in place. This can prevent further difficulties developing later and maximise learning opportunities.

The professionals who work with your child on a daily basis may identify a possible need for additional support. They should work closely with you if concerns arise.

However, you must always remember that, as a parent, you have knowledge and expertise about your child that is valuable to the professionals who work with them. You know your child’s strengths, and you will also be aware of the areas in which they need extra support.

If you are concerned, you have the right to ask your education authority (generally in partnership with your pre-school centre or school) to arrange an assessment to see if your child has additional support needs. If your child has additional support needs, you can also request a specific assessment at any time, such as an educational, psychological or medical assessment. More information on assessment can be found in Chapter 5 of this guide.

Children up to the age of three

Health professionals, such as your health visitor, GP or community paediatrician will be able to identify a disability early on, often at or just after birth. If your child is diagnosed with a disability and could benefit from early additional support to help with their development, a health professional or other professional could tell the education authority, or you could do this yourself.

In these early years, you or a professional may notice other causes of concern such as difficult behaviour or a delay in learning to speak.

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Pre-school children

Sometimes the first indication that a child may have additional support needs emerges when the child is attending a nursery or pre-school centre.

Early years staff, working in partnership with you, will have a key role in identifying whether your child may need extra support.

Others who come into contact with your child, such as a paediatriciansocial worker or a particular type of therapist, may also notice these early signs. If they are concerned that your child may need extra support, they will first tell you and then the education authority.

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School-age children

A teacher will normally identify children who need a greater level of attention or planning. For example, they may notice that a child has made a slow start in learning to read or that they are far more advanced than other pupils their age.

However, any professional who comes into contact with your child, such as a social worker, school nurse or GP, can raise their concerns with the education authority.

As a parent you may also bring your concerns to the teacher or the school.

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Young people, aged 16 or over

Your child has the same rights as you if they are aged 16 or over. If they think they may need additional support and this has not been recognised by the professionals working with them, then they have the same right as you to ask their education authority to arrange assessments to find out if they do.

If your child does not have capacity, then as their parent you should ask for an assessment on your child’s behalf.

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At a glance: Early signs of additional support needs

You have the right to:

  • ask your education authority to find out whether your child has additional support needs
  • ask your education authority for a specific assessment at any time, if your child has additional support needs.

Your child’s rights:

  • If your child is aged 16 or over, they have the same rights as you, listed above.

Education authorities must:

  • make arrangements to identify children who have additional support needs
  • comply with your request if you ask for particular assessments or to find out whether your child has additional support needs. It can only refuse if it considers your request unreasonable.

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0345 123 2303
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children and young people

Helpline: 0345 123 2303

Visit our website for children and young people