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Sunderland Special Education Needs and Disabilities Information, Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS) provides free, impartial, and confidential information, advice and support to children, young people from 0 to 25 with SEND, and their parents and carers.

What is a Disability?

This is defined by the Equality Act 2010 as:

(1) A person (P) has a disability if—

(a) P has a physical or mental impairment, and

(b) the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on P’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.


This is defined by The Children and Family Act 2014 as:  (1) A child or young person has special educational needs if he or she has a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her. (2) A child of compulsory school age or a young person has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she— (a) has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age, or (b) has a disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions. (3) A child under compulsory school age has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she is likely to be within subsection (2) when of compulsory school age (or would be likely, if no special educational provision were made).


Many children and young people who have SEN may also have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 – that is a ‘physical or mental impairment which has a long term and substantial adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. This definition provides a relatively low threshold and includes more children than many realise: ‘long term’ is defined as ‘a year or more’ and ‘substantial’ is defined as ‘more than minor or trivial’. This definition includes sensory impairments such as:
  • those affecting sight or hearing
  • long-term health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy and cancer.
Children and young people with such conditions do not necessarily have SEN, but there is a significant overlap between disabled children and young people and those with SEN. Where a disabled child or young person requires special educational provision, they will also be covered by the SEN definition. A child must have a special educational need to be considered for an Education, Health and Care assessment. A care need or medical need in isolation would not result in an EHC Assessment. The four primary areas of Special Educational Needs are as below – your child may also fall into multiple categories:
  1. Communication and interaction
  2. Cognition and learning
  3. Social, emotional and mental health
  4. Sensory and/or physical

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