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Understanding Cognition & Learning

Young people with cognition and learning difficulties learn at a slower pace.

They may have greater difficulty than their peers with acquiring literacy and numeracy skills, or in understanding concepts, even with appropriate differentiation. They may also have other difficulties such as speech and language delay, low self-esteem, low levels of concentration and under-developed social skills.

Our students need carefully devised differentiation and an appropriate curriculum that has been organised into smaller, sequenced steps.

They may need more practical activities than their peers to support the development of skills and concepts, and may require specific programmes to support progress in developing literacy and numeracy skills. The level of support required will depend on the severity of the young person’s cognitive difficulty and any associated needs that compound their difficulties in accessing the curriculum, such as physical impairments or communication difficulties.

Those with cognition and learning difficulties are at increased risk of developing a mental health problem.

They may need additional support for their social development, self-esteem and emotional well-being. This may be through small group work on social skills, through peer group support and through regular and positive feedback on their progress.

Young people with severe learning difficulties (SLD) have significant intellectual or cognitive impairments and are likely to need support in all areas of the curriculum.

They may have difficulties with mobility and co-ordination, communication and perception, and the acquisition of self-help skills. Children and young people with SLD are likely to need support to be independent. Those with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) have severe and complex learning difficulties as well as significant other difficulties such as a physical disability or a sensory impairment. They are likely to need sensory stimulation and a curriculum broken down into very small steps. These children and young people require a high level of adult support, both for their educational needs and for their personal care.

Those with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD) will need to be taught life skills that prepare them for increased independence.

Each student is a unique individual and, as such, the degree of independence that they will demonstrate will vary. Students with PMLD must have their complex medical and physical needs addressed. Planning, provision and timetables need to be flexible in order to address these needs, and keep learners safe, happy and ready to learn.

Autism — The Four Key Areas of Difference

The following information has been highlighted to ensure all members of the school community are aware of the four areas of difference that are particularly important to understand and pay attention to, because most students on the autism spectrum attending Windmill Hill School, will have individual educational needs to be met in these areas. These four areas of difference can create high levels of stress and anxiety for the student, and this can have a profound impact on an individual’s performance and behaviour. Every student on the autism spectrum will have a range of abilities and needs within each of these areas.

Social understanding
Differences in understanding social behaviour and the feelings of others, which informs the development of friendships and relationships.

We will demonstrate empathy and understanding that students have a differing way of processing information and that this can create difficulties for them with regard to understanding the communications/intentions of others. Staff will enhance their approach, adjusting their own style, modifying how they interact and deliver the curriculum to our students, as required.

Sensory processing 
Differences in perceiving sensory information.

We aim to identify any sensory preferences that may be limiting individual students’ opportunities and arrange to reduce/remove the source of difficulty wherever possible. With the support of OT, staff will identify appropriate levels of stimuli, recognise individual triggers and develop strategies to enable self-regulation. Staff will endeavour to create a classroom and school environment which addresses these challenges, reducing levels of anxiety. Students will be supported to learn self-regulation in order to engage and learn.

Interests and information processing
Differences in perception, planning, understanding concepts, predicting and managing transitions.

We will assess students’ special interests, ensuring that they do not pose a danger to the pupil or others, or take over so completely that the pupil concentrates solely on the interest, excluding all other stimuli, leading to increased anxiety and behaviours that challenge if an interest is obstructed. Strategies to support this will be used e.g. consistent timetable, re-direction to other activities, time away, now and next approach. By identifying special interests, staff are able to positively create opportunities in order to develop responsibility, independence and learning. Building on interests can increase engagement, attention and social interaction whilst reducing levels of stress.

Differences in understanding and expressing communication and language.

We will seek to reduce the likelihood of behaviours that challenge by ensuring that each student is able to use functional communication, and that those supporting the student have a range of strategies to individualise their communication support. Staff will ensure teaching and learning spaces and approaches maximise each student’s communication skills; they will adopt a ‘total communication approach’, consistently using a breadth of resources, tools and communication aids which can be accessed by all students as required.