Sheridan Steen: Shifting perceptions of Special Educational Needs
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Sheridan Steen: Shifting perceptions of Special Educational Needs

Sheridan Steen: Shifting perceptions of Special Educational Needs

What do the famous painter Leonardo da Vinci, global entrepreneur Richard Branson and the sensational singer Cher have in common?

The answer: Special Educational Needs (SEN).

Despite the perceptions surrounding SEN, learning difficulties are more common than you think.

To alter negative mindsets and inject a fresh, fair and balanced view of SEN into today’s global education sector, Dyslexia School Search founder Sheridan Steen travels around the world to help SEN students find their perfect school.

Too often these students are neglected by outdated and rigid ways of thinking, so Sheridan has made it her mission to bring their needs to the forefront of education, encouraging schools to adapt learning styles and facilities to fit students of all backgrounds and abilities.

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Sometimes SEN students feel alienated, and that’s something that needs to stop. Source: Shutterstock

To gain a deeper understanding the subject, Study International attended the BESSA 2018 event in Kuala Lumpur, interviewing

Sheridan after her talk on placing pupils with specific learning difficulties such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, ADHD, ADD, Autism and high functioning Asperger’s syndrome.

Immersed in the UK Independent School sector for 20 years, Sheridan’s deep understanding of how schools work and her knowledge of the current demand for specialist education expertise enables her to offer a unique and informative stance on SEN.

Take a look at the interview findings below to broaden your mind on the current state of SEN…

SI: After travelling extensively in Europe, China, Korea, Japan, the Gulf States and Africa, you realised that there were some exceptionally good international schools with limited resources to help children with Dyslexia.

In your opinion, were there any countries that appeared to have a stronger grip on supporting special needs in boarding schools than others? 

Sheridan: “Without singling out certain regions, there are certainly still many countries that need to be woken up to the realities of learning difficulties.

“However, the seed of awareness has been planted by many consultants like myself, who travel to schools around the world – now that seed just needs to grow.”

SI: In today’s digital age, how can learning difficulties work to an SEN student’s advantage?

Sheridan: “Students with learning difficulties have pockets of strength. They are extremely clever and creative. And as our world is moving towards creative industries, it’s a great position for any innovative thinker to be in.

“Essentially, you’ve got to have creatives in the world. So countries that don’t embrace their creative kids, their autistic children, are missing out. Especially with the transition to new technologies and AI.”

SI: Are there any treasured moments where your company, Dyslexia School Search, made a real-world impact on the life of a student with special needs?

Sheridan: “One wonderful success that I’ve had in the past was with a nine-year-old student who is now studying in the UK. He was very Dyslexic and was required to do dictation every morning at school. And of course, he struggled to complete this and it frustrated him to the point of quitting.

“So, the new school I recommended took a practical approach to help him with his Dyslexia and now he is thriving both personally and academically. That’s why I wish people would understand that it isn’t impossible and that it just takes time, patience and understanding to help SEN students with their struggles.”

SI: What do you think it is SEN students need from schools to thrive in today’s working world?

Sheridan: “Well, in the world I work in, every child has something special to offer. Yet, they need schools that have patience, understanding and individualised attention that will invest in their potential.

“We must never disregard these students, as they may be our answer to escaping real-world problems like cyber threats and climate change.”

After speaking to Sheridan, it became apparent that the missing ingredient to SEN support in schools was understanding.

Unfortunately, in our fast-moving age, educators often lack the patience and the knowledge needed to develop SEN student talent.

As Sheridan travels from country to country, she respectfully raises awareness of this issue and helps shift outdated perceptions of special needs education.

There is still a long way to go and various tools that must be developed to support the SEN sector.

Butwith compassionate, influential and life-changing specialists like Sheridan in action, there’s hope that the stigma surrounding SEN students will soon be overturned.

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