1. Home
  2.  » 
  3. Key Data
  4.  » 
  5. Neurodiversity
  6.  » Special educational need



Neurodiversity describes the learning and thinking differences that young people may have, including autism, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and special educational needs.

Approximately 1-2% of young people aged 10-24 have autism spectrum disorder

Special educational need

A learning disability is defined by the Department of Health and Social Care as “a significant reduced ability to understand new or complex information, to learn new skills (impaired intelligence), with a reduced ability to cope independently (impaired social functioning), which started before adulthood” (Department of Health, 2001). There is an overlap between learning disability and autism spectrum disorder, but not all young people with autism will have learning disabilities or vice versa. Incidence of learning disabilities is more common in boys than girls, and it has been estimated that there are 286,000 children and young people aged 0-17 in the UK with a learning disability (Mental Health Foundation, 2017).  Registrations on the England Learning Disabilities Register show that young males (age 10-34) make up the largest proportion of registered patients. Chart 5.2 shows that currently 18-24 year olds have the highest rates of learning disability in England at 0.5% of females and 1.2% of males.

Young males (age 10-34) make up the largest proportion of registered patients on the Learning Disabilities Register in England

The definition of special educational needs (SEN) is broader than that for learning disability. The term covers a wide range of needs. These include behavioural, emotional and social difficulties, speech, language and communication, hearing impairment, visual impairment, multi-sensory impairment, physical disability and autism. SEN is defined if the child requires special education provision to be made, but how the decision is made can vary. As a result estimates of prevalence vary too. SEN support is a requirement all schools are asked to provide, with extra funding from the local authority if a school cannot meet the specific needs of the young person. The requirement for extra funding is assessed through an Education, Health and Care plan (EHC).

Overall in secondary schools 2.0% of pupils had a formal EHC plan and 11.5% had SEN support.In 2021 the Department for Education reported that just over 1 million children at primary and secondary schools received SEN support at school; this is those who receive support, not all those who might need it but do not get it. Of these 401,563 were in secondary schools. Overall in secondary schools 2.0% of pupils had a formal EHC plan and 11.5% had SEN support.

The most common type of need for those with an EHC plan is Autistic Spectrum Disorders and for those with SEN support, Speech, Language and Communication needs (Department for Education, 2021). However, the main reason for an EHC plan changes with age, as shown in Chart 5.3.

The most prevalent types of need vary with age among those with SEN plans in state-funded primary, secondary and special schools

Chart 5.4 shows that the rates of pupils with SEN or ECH plans in secondary schools has been slightly increasing.

The numbers of secondary school pupils with SEN or ECH plans has slightly increased

Children who are looked after by the local authority have higher rates of special educational needs and the majority of these relate to social, emotional, and mental health (Department for Education, 2021).

Secondary school children who are looked after have higher rates of SEN needs than their peers

All data correct as of 1st November 2021