Child Case Study For Special Education

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Sally is 15 and is a bright girl. She is in the top stream for English, history and French and is expected to get top grades in most of her GCSEs. However, she is in the bottom set for Maths. She has always found maths a problem but has usually found ways of getting round …
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Lisa is 12 and is bilingual speaking German as her mother tongue.  Having moved to Britain a few years ago she never learned to write in German but speaks it fluently.  She has been referred to the SENCO because she was finding it hard to settle in school.  She achieved level 4 in English in …
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Declan is 14. He is an albino and is totally blind.  This means that he has no pigments in his skin.  His hair is white and his eyes are very pink.  He must not go out in the sun without complete sun block.  He is of average intelligence and is very sociable.  Declan has learned braille …
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The case study below is one in the series on this subject in HLT. Anna Hyzniak joins now Maciej Sienkiewicz and Anna Jarosz who have already published their case studies in HLT (Nov. 2007 and Sept.2006 respectively). All of them and many other students from English Unlimited Teacher Training College in Gdańsk, Poland, were involved in a project in which they observed SEN children learning English and other subjects along with children with no special educational needs. The project was supervised by Hanna Kryszewska, HLT Editor.

Case Study: Special Educational Needs Children in Mainstream Education in Poland

Anna Hyzniak, Poland

Anna Hyzniak has been a teacher at English Unlimited, a school of foreign languages in Gdansk, Poland, since 1992. Currently she is interested in developing the concept of closely processing texts that have been designed for reading or listening comprehension in order to raise language learners’ linguistic awareness. In addition, she is also interested in the methods in which newly acquired language can be memorised. E-mail:


1. School Profile – general information about the school
2. Class Profile – general information about the selected class
3. Information gathered about the selected student
4. Observation of an English lesson: summary
5. Observation of a lesson of another subject: summary
6. Conclusions and my own reflections

1. School Profile – general information about the school

Background information

The school has 10-years of experience in working with special educational needs (SEN) children in integrated classes. According to the regulations by Ministry for Education, an integrated class must contain SEN children numbering from three to five. However, it is possible that only two SEN children join an integrated class, provided that they suffer from multiple disabilities. For example, a child is autistic and partially sighted or suffers from cerebral palsy and hearing disorder.

The whole school population comprises 507 children, both boys and girls, 23 (approximately 5%) of which have a statutory statement. At the primary level in classes from 1 to 6 children are between the ages from 7 to 13 or 14. At the ‘gimnazjum level’ in classes from 1 to 3 children are between the ages from 14 to 16.

Types of disabilities in the school

  • ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Autism
  • Mild and medium cerebral palsy
  • Physical disability
  • Hearing disability
  • Blindness

The school curriculum

SEN children follow the same curriculum as the ones who have no SEN, if their learning capabilities meet the required standards or are slightly below average. If however, a child’s learning difficulties makes it impossible for him or her to follow the same curriculum as the rest of the class then he or she follows an individual curriculum which is adequate to his or her needs.

The role of the support teacher

  • makes the school syllabus compatible to the capabilities of the special educational needs child
  • sets individual learning targets for each child
  • makes the final decision regarding the final grades the child receives
  • corresponds with the child’s parents
  • if the child receives no support at home, tries to compensate for this
  • personally assists special educational needs children during everyday classes

2. Class Profile – general information about the selected class

Background information

The class consists of 15 children who have been together right from the start of their primary school education. The four special educational needs children are all 12-years old whereas the other children are 11-years old. All the children appear to be lively, hard working and not hyperactive. They keep together, play together and the children with SEN are not bullied because of their learning difficulties.

Types of disabilities

The four special educational needs children suffer from the following disabilities: (For reasons of confidentiality the children’s names have been changed.)

  • Autism (Michał)
    • suffers from autism but other than that his intellectual abilities are within the required standards for his particular age group
    • follows the same curriculum as other children
    • receives a great deal of support from his parents at home
  • Mild cerebral palsy (Piotr)
    • follows an individual curriculum
    • receives no support at home
  • Dispraxia (Jacek)
    • follows the same curriculum as the rest of the children
    • receives a great deal of support at home
  • Down’s syndrome (Magda)
    • follows an individual curriculum
    • receives a great deal of support at home

With regards to Piotr and Jacek, their supporting teacher communicates with their parents mainly by the means of a correspondence book where she puts the following information:

  • what Piotr and Jacek need to revise for a test
  • homework assignments
  • any changes taking place in the school

The tests that Piotr and Jacek are expected to sit are adapted and simplified by their support teacher. For example she magnifies the text for them or makes more space for them to write the answers in as the two boys tend to write in big letters.

3. Information gathered about the selected student

Background information

Michał, a 12-year-old autistic child, tends to avoid contact with other members of his class. Although he prefers his own company, he is very popular with his classmates. Similarly to other autistic children he has difficulties expressing himself and is reluctant to experiment with words. When he speaks he either answers in the second or third person:

e.g. ‘Nie chcesz’ (don’t want to), ‘Nie musisz’(don’t have to) or ‘Nie chce’ (doesn’t want to),
‘Nie lubi (Doesn’t like)’.

According to his support teacher, Michał is unable to understand the relation between cause and effect. Nevertheless, he is able to see the difference between right and wrong. Although Michał tends to avoid contact with other children from his class, on one occasion he tried to comfort his class friend, Jasiu, by saying to him: ’Jasiu nie płacz.’, ‘Jasiu don’t cry’.

As any other autistic children, he relies on his routine greatly and any change to it upsets him.

Michał’s academic profile

Michał prefers scientific subjects to languages. He finds it easier to think in concrete rather than in abstract terms, hence he finds it difficult to understand metaphorical language. According to his support teacher, Michał has an excellent photographic memory. As a result, he does not make any spelling mistakes and finds it easy to memorise newly acquired words. He comes well prepared for his lessons and adores receiving good grades. Once a week, he has one hour of private tuition at school with his support teacher.

The involvement of Michał’s parents

The school counsellor confirmed that Michał, receives a great deal of support from his parents. Since she has very good understanding with Michał’s mother, there is no need for her to meet with Michał on a regular basis. She welcomes the fact that Michał’s parents have come to terms with his disability. Their main concern is to provide a happy and stable home for their child. According to the school counsellor, in the majority of cases though, special needs children are mainly cared for by single mothers. Children’s fathers tend to leave the family home. Often parents find it difficult to come to terms with their child’s disability and as a result the relationship between them dissolves. In addition, the main blame is put on the school if the child is not making satisfactory progress in his or her learning.

4. Observation of an English lesson: summary

Course-book used: ‘Friends 2’ pp.22 and 23.

The aim of the lesson:

To teach ‘have got and has got’
To teach forming ‘Have you got …….? Forming Yes / No questions
To teach making short answers: ‘Yes, I have.
                                                No, I haven’t.’

The lesson began with a warm-up relating to pets.
The following vocabulary was revised / introduced next: ‘pet, brothers, sisters, big, small, long, short, ears, tail, teeth’.
To explain the meaning of new vocabulary the teacher used demonstrations and gestures.
After the introduction of the key vocabulary, a dialogue from the course-book entitled ‘What have you got? was practised by children.
In the free-practice stage of the lesson the children were instructed to play a guessing game, entitled ‘Have you got a pet?’

Final comment:
The children were clearly involved in the lesson. The main type of interaction was teacher and learner questions and answers. Polish language was used sparingly, mainly for concept check.

5. Observation of a lesson of another subject: summary

Subject: Polish language lesson
Novel discussed:‘Secret Garden’
The topic of the lesson:‘Why a secret garden?’ A garden in the novel by F.H. Burnett

The lesson consisted of a combination of teacher-learner and group work interaction.
The children were instructed to find the relevant passages in the novel and to comment on them.

The group-work task was as follows: ‘Discuss the following questions.
What did Mary benefit because of the garden? What did the garden benefit because of Mary?

…………………………………………                    …………………………………………………
…………………………………………                    …………………………………………………
…………………………………………                    …………………………………………………


It was a vary carefully staged lesson at the end of which children received stickers for their participation. The support teacher sat next to a SEN girl, Magda. The three SEN children, Piotr, Jacek, and Magda did not actively take part in the lesson about the ‘Secret Garden’. They did Polish language exercises instead. Michał, an autistic child, paid some attention to what was happening during the lesson. However, at some point during the lesson he started walking around the class and looking at various posters. He appeared to be slightly detached from the rest of the group.

Overall, it was a lesson from which the children must have benefited a great deal. They appeared to be greatly involved and made their valuable contributions commenting on various aspects of the novel that their teacher wanted them to discuss.

6. Conclusions and my own reflections

All children capable of education, regardless of the nature of their disabilities should have free access to mainstream schooling. If opportunities are created for SEN children to fully integrate with other children who do not have SEN, then important steps are made for SEN children in assisting them to lead as full an adult life as possible in the future. Children who do not have SEN, on the other hand, learn about tolerance and empathy.

It also appears vital that parents of SEN children are involved in making informed decisions regarding their children’s education. In addition, parents need to be fully informed about the availability of the relevant facilities and supporting services. Close lesion between parents and educators seems to be of paramount importance if children’s educational potential is to be fully realised. The last but not least, SEN children themselves should be involved in the decision-making processes regarding their individual curriculum and extra-curriculum activities.

In order to create the ultimate learning settings, the children’s cognitive learning styles, both for SEN children and children with no SEN, need to be identified. According to some researchers information that is presented can be processed in two different ways:

  • Holistically – situations are seen as whole and not as separate parts.
  • Analytically – situations are seen as containing separate parts and not as whole entities

There are also those who fall somewhere in-between. In addition, the processed information is represented in three different ways:

  • by means of words in the case of Verbalises
  • by means of mental pictures in the case of Imagers
  • and by the combination of the above modes in the case of Bimodals

As for Michał, the autistic SEN child, he is said to be absorbing information by means of mental pictures, hence verbal interaction with other members of his classmates is of lesser importance to him.

Moreover, Riding and Rayner (1998) observe that individuals employ appropriate learning strategies if presented information is not compatible with their cognitive learning styles. Hence, to minimise the amount of processing of new information before it can be understood and retained, educators need to ensure that the content and presentation of new information complies with the children’s learning styles in order to fully realise their academic as well as social potential.

Finally, the term ‘handicapped’ should be abandoned and replaced by that of ‘special educational needs’ as the former puts the label of inferiority on the children who suffer from various disabilities, unfairly dividing children into better and worse.

I would also like to add that I was immensely inspired by the dedication and the expertise of the SEN support teacher, Ms Lidia Muchowska. I am grateful for the time she was prepared to find to talk about the dynamics of the class and about Michał, Piotr, Jacek and Magda. Many thanks are also extended to the children themselves and to everyone in the school who made it possible for me to complete the above project.

The last but not least, the project itself has been a great insight into how young children learn about tolerance, empathy and coping with everyday school life.


Riding, Richard, and Stephen Rayner. Cognitive Styles and Learning Strategies. London: David Fulton Publishers, 1998.

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