IATEFL 2018: Special Educational Needs and Disability – How to identify, differentiate and celebrate! – Kate Middleton

Kate Middleton wants to talk about all those students who have additional needs and need support for that. She is “Mister Messy” (Mister Men), and also a paediatric speech and language therapist, an EFL teacher for adults and her main interest is the overlap between SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) and TEFL. Currently there is a lack of research and knowledge and sharing between the fields. Speakmylanguage is her website

  • It is a huge topic, so today is about general awareness and signposting session.
  • Resources and tips form the IATEFL 2018 workshop (this one!) will be on the website

SEND: Why does it matter in the ELT industry?

Inclusion is a “hot” topic at the moment, schools are under pressure to show that they are aware of and catering for these issues. On a more practical level, SEND affects most classrooms whether you are aware of them or not.

  • Facts and figures
  • How to spot the students with them
  • Practical strategies for supporting these students

UK SEND code of practice: for 0-25 years but applies to older people too.

“significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority  of others of the same age”

4 broad types of SEND:

  • Communication and interaction: developmental language disorder
  • Cognition and learning: general learning difficulties
  • social, emotional and mental health e.g. anxiety disorders
  • sensory and/or physical needs e.g. hearing loss

Today we will focus on the first 2.


  1. A staggering number of people go through life without an official diagnosis. Lots of undiagnosed students in our schools.
  2. Many SENDs are long term, won’t disappear and require management.
  3. Students with SEND do not generally have a lower overall IQ than the rest of the population. May form part of the diagnosis for some but not synonymous.
  4.  14% of young people (under 25) have been diagnosed with a SEND in the UK – they are the ones that we know about. And this is in the UK where it’s a hot topic, rather than in places where it may be taboo for example.

Which SENDs might fall into these categories?

  • Communication and interaction
  • Cognition and learning

(autism/aspergers, dyspraxia, dyslexia, sensory processing disorder, ADD, ADHD, oppositional defiance disorder, general learning difficulties, stammer, language disorder)

How to identify students with these conditions?

Our role of EFL teachers is not to diagnose students, that’s what the specialists do. We aren’t specialist teachers offering specialist teaching in a mainstream setting. But we should be aware of some of the signs of SEND, support students with basic strategies and seek further help as needed. We are looking for the type of difficulties not a diagnosis. Looking at what they find difficult so we can help them.

Why does a student make slow progress?

Tiredness, lack of concentration, not engaged, so many reasons. Could also be a SEND? Could be language-specific issues. Could be poor engagement/laziness? Could be personal/emotional problems? Could be a teaching-learning style mismatch – may not account for all but may be a factor.

Do some detective work

  • consider relevant linguistic/cultural factors (do they have a different script? absent structures?)
  • observe them in their own language (are they sociable? do they read?)
  • speak to the student directly (may tell you or may say I don’t know but I find x y z difficult)
  • monitor for consistency (if it is genuine you can’t switch it on and off, won’t change across teachers/host families etc)
  • adapt your teaching style (play around, do something different), note impact (has it helped? has anything changed?)
  • keep an eye out for common difficulties/behaviours (flags/warning signs)

Difficulties common to many SEND

  • slow processing, slow to understand
  • memory problems (short term, long term, working)
  • organisational skills (knowing when you need to be where, what time)
  • focus and attention (being able to sit without fidgeting etc for sustained period)
  • difficulty with lateral thinking

Dig a little deeper into “bad” behaviours

  • boredom
  • defiance
  • absence

Why are they there, are they hiding something? Not necessarily but could be.

Task – consider a profile of a student and possible explanations for the behaviour

This could be a classic dyslexic profile. These are common to dyslexia and other SENDs. But there could be a whole host of other reasons. E.g. script difficulty, needs glasses, maybe she needs her hearing checked, maybe she is tired. It’s about digging deeper.

Supporting/celebrate SEND: practical strategies

The good news: you’re already using some of them! There are general strategies which do benefit many students. There are patterns we can make the most of.

Common underlying factors

Underlying “processing” deficit – get quickly overwhelmed by speed and quantity of information. Relative strength – e.g. visual. A lot will have a low self-esteem as they are used to failing and having to work a lot harder to not be as good as others.

The main principles: ROAM

R– reduce processing load

O – overlearning (recycling/repetition)

A – achievable  tasks

M – multi-sensory teaching

10 Strategies

  • Pause: allow extra time for ss  to respond to questions/instructions; use more pauses in your talking
  • Deliver instructions in small chunks and in a logical order
  • Multisensory teaching: tap into all the senses; cater for different learning styles
  • Repetition: lots and lots of recycling and task repetition
  • Small goals: achievable tasks to increase confidence and success
  • Movement: incorporate this into activities, allow “mini-breaks” to help with processing
  • Safe space: ensure students feel valued and supported e.g. class buddy system. Be positive.
  • Self help: encourage use of strategies e.g. rehearsal/requesting help earlier
  • Reduce board copying: it can be TIRING! Give handouts/allow photos instead. If you have dyslexia or struggle to form letters or slow in general, you can waste all your energy writing rather than on the lesson content itself.
  • Visuals: explain tasks/concepts/lexis using pictures/symbols/words Spoken language is fleeting, for a student with difficult processing or needing more time, visuals can be helpful. (see website for useful visuals)


Parting thought: language learning: “everyone can benefit[…]and no one should be excluded” Hillarry McColl Language without limits




One thought on “IATEFL 2018: Special Educational Needs and Disability – How to identify, differentiate and celebrate! – Kate Middleton

  1. Pingback: IATEFLections: a round-up for 2018 – Lizzie Pinard

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s