Supporting children with special educational needs

If a child has special educational needs, different people are responsible for assessing the child’s needs and helping them. They’re specialists who help look after the child’s health, welfare and education. Parents can also get support and specialist advice about their child’s needs.

Community pediatrician

A community paediatrician is a specialist doctor who  can assess your child’s needs. As well as advising you about health matters, this doctor may discuss with you concerns about possible learning problems.

With your agreement, this doctor will pass on significant concerns to the Education Authority (EA) in your region. Community paediatricians are employed by Health and Social Care Trusts.

Designated medical officer

This is likely to be a community paediatrician. They’re responsible for collecting statutory medical and social services advice.

Every child must have a medical examination as part of their assessment. Most children get a basic medical examination to be sure they don’t have significant medical needs. If your child had medical problems, they might need a different examination.

Educational psychologist

An educational psychologist has a post-graduate qualification in developmental and educational psychology. They must give the EA in your region advice as part of your child’s statutory assessment. 

Educational psychologists are also qualified and experienced teachers. They can advise on children and young people’s educational needs of children. They can suggest ways to help your child.

Health visitor

A health visitor is a qualified nurse with specialist training. They may refer pre-school children with special educational needs to the community paediatrician. The designated medical officer might ask for the health visitor’s advice during the statutory assessment process.

Learning support teacher

A learning support teacher can help your child directly or support teachers in the school.  They’re employed by the Education Authority.

Named officer

During a child’s assessment process, the named officer gives parents advice, help and support. They are usually an officer employed in the Special Education Section of the EA in your area.

Occupational therapist

The occupational therapist gives assessment, treatment and rehabilitation to children and young people with physical, co-ordination and processing problems.

The designated medical officer might ask an occupational therapist for advice during the statutory assessment process. Occupational therapists are employed by Health and Social Care Trusts.


A physiotherapist is trained to provide assessment and treatment in overcoming movement and physical challenges such as problems of balance, coordination, sitting, standing and walking.

The designated medical officer might ask a physiotherapist for advice during the statutory assessment process. Physiotherapists are employed by Health and Social Care Trusts.

Special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO)

Every grant-aided school must have a SENCO. They’re a staff member and responsible for co-ordinating the school’s special educational needs provision. In a small school, the SENCO might be the principal. The SENCO can explain how the school meets your child’s special educational needs.

Social worker

A social worker gives support and advice to parents and families. Social workers can give welfare advice to the statutory assessment. Social workers are employed by Health and Social Care Trusts.

School-based assistants

Some pupils with special educational needs require more help than a teacher can give.  A school may employ various assistants to help children with different educational needs including:

  • classroom assistants
  • general assistants
  • supervisory assistants
  • learning support assistants

Assistants work under the school principal’s direction.

Speech and language therapist

A speech and language therapist is trained to assess, diagnose, manage and treat speech and language problems. They also give support and advice to parents and schools.

Speech and language therapists can contribute to education plans and give medical advice during the assessment process. Speech and language therapists are employed by Health and Social Care Trusts.

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