Acronyms Explained


We are aware that in Special Education professionals may well use a number of acronyms. It is important for everyone to have a good understanding of what these mean especially when talking about the needs of the pupils and their diagnosis.

We hope this document will help everyone to have a shared understanding of these acronyms. Definitions are sourced from organizations dedicated to these areas of need. These are named below. Please visit these sites for further information.


Cognition and Learning


What does this stand for?

Definition and Source


Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties

A profound and multiple learning disability (PMLD) is when a person has a severe learning disability and other disabilities that significantly affect their ability to communicate and be independent.

Someone with a profound and multiple learning disability might have difficulties seeing, hearing, speaking and moving. They may have complicated health and social care needs due to these or other conditions.

People with a profound and multiple learning disability need support to help them with some areas of their life, such as eating, washing or personal care.

Lots of people with a profound and multiple learning disability can still be involved in decisions about themselves, do things they enjoy and be independent.

Some people who struggle with talking might be able to use other ways of communication, like sign language, Signalong, Makaton, or digital systems like picture exchange communication systems (PECS).


Severe Learning Difficulties

Someone who has a severe learning disability will:

  • have little or no speech
  • find it very difficult to learn new skills
  • need support with daily activities such as dressing, washing, eating and keeping safe
  • have difficulties with social skills
  • need life-long support

A severe learning disability is typically diagnosed at birth or in early childhood. Signs of developmental delay may be noticed by a range of people such as health visitors, paediatricians, GPs or family members, prompting a formal assessment leading to a diagnosis.

Some individuals with severe learning disabilities may also be diagnosed with another condition such as, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Smith-Magenis Syndrome or Prader-Willi Syndrome. However, not every individual with a diagnosed condition, such as those above, will also have a severe learning disability.


Moderate Learning Difficulties

Moderate Learning Difficulty is a term used to describe children who display significant delays in reaching developmental milestones and have difficulty in accessing the curriculum.  Children with Moderate Learning Difficulties often struggle with literacy and numeracy despite differentiated learning and support.  Children with Moderate Learning Difficulty may also have difficulty with some or all of the following:

  • Speech and language delay;
  • Difficulty understanding basic concepts;
  • Poor memory and problem solving skills;
  • Poor fine and gross motor skills;
  • Low levels of concentration; and
  • Underdeveloped social, emotional and personal skills.



Specific Learning Difficulties

Specific learning difficulties (SpLDs) are neurological conditions. They can cause inefficiencies in areas such as processing (thinking) speed, auditory short term/working memory and visual/auditory perception. As a result, there may be impacts on academic and life skills. However, some students have compensated by harnessing inherent strengths. Academic and career goals can be reached, and this may be made easier by being taught strategies and techniques, and by using inclusive technology.

Conditions include-

  • Dyslexia – Effects reading, writing and spelling
  • Dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder – effects fine and gross motor control and coordination
  • Dyscalculia – Effects understanding of numbers and mathematics
  • Attention Deficit (hyperactivity) Disorder – Effects concentration and attention.


Global Developmental Delay

The term 'developmental delay' or 'global development delay' is used when a child takes longer to reach certain development milestones than other children their age.

This might include learning to walk or talk, movement skills, learning new things and interacting with others socially and emotionally.

Someone with another condition, like Down’s syndrome or Cerebral palsy, may also have Global developmental delay.

For some people, the delay in their development will be short ­term and can be overcome with additional support or therapy.

In other cases the delay may be more significant and the child will need ongoing support. This indicates they may also have a learning disability.






Sensory and Physical    


What does this stand for?

Definition and Source


Multi-Sensory Impairment

Also known as Deafblindness or dual sensory loss.

 Deafblindness is a combination of sight and hearing loss that affects a person's ability to communicate, access information and get around.

It's also sometimes called "dual sensory loss" or "multi-sensory impairment".

A deafblind person won't usually be totally deaf and totally blind, but both senses will be reduced enough to cause significant difficulties in everyday life.

These problems can occur even if hearing loss and vision loss are mild, as the senses work together and one would usually help compensate for loss of the other.

It most commonly affects older adults, although it can affect people of all ages, including babies and young children.


Sensory Impairment

Sensory impairment is the common term used to describe Deafness, blindness, visual impairment, hearing impairment and Deafblindness.


Visual Impairment

The term “visual impairment” is used to describe sight loss that cannot be corrected using glasses or contact lenses.

The word “blindness” is commonly used to describe total, or near-total sight loss.


Hearing Impairment

Hearing impairment is usually caused by a problem either with how sound travels through the ear to the auditory nerve (hearing loss or deafness) or how sound is interpreted by the brain (auditory processing).


Physical Disability

Physical disability is defined as a “limitation on a person's physical functioning, mobility, dexterity or stamina” that has a 'substantial' and 'long-term' negative effect on an individual’s  ability to do normal daily activities. (Equality Act,2010).  However, the effects of physical disability on a persons experience of life and learning varies even for children with the same diagnosis or condition.

For some the influence of their physical impairment may be mild, whilst for others, the effect  may be profound impacting on every aspect of development. For others, their disability may be hidden, such as arthritis, or very evident necessitating a range of individual equipment and assistance from others.  Others may have degenerative conditions or their symptoms may fluctuate across the day.  Some children and young people will have additional difficulties which could include visual or hearing impairment, autistic spectrum conditions, epilepsy or additional medical, communication or learning needs.


Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a term used to describe children who struggle to correctly perceive the sensory world around them. The sensory difficulties children with SPD experience may find it difficult to tie shoe laces, write, run and many other childhood activities.

Sensory Processing Disorder can be present in many forms and can often result in behavioural issues as well as functional difficulties. It is common for children within the Autistic Spectrum to experience many complex sensory difficulties. Children with SPD may experience sensory difficulties relating to one or multiple senses

Children with Sensory Processing Disorder tend to fall into one of two categories: Hypersensitivity or Hyposensitivity. The first is a term used to describe children who are overly sensitive, and often struggle with sleeping, dressing or any form of sensory input. Whereas children who are termed Hyposensitive under-react to stimuli that should otherwise cause them some discomfort, such as pain or heat.








Communication and Interaction


What does this stand for?

Definition and Source


Speech Language and Communication Need

The term speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) describes difficulties across one or many aspects of communication including:

  • problems with producing speech sounds accurately
  • stammering
  • voice problems, such as hoarseness and loss of voice problems understanding language (making sense of what people say) problems using language (words and sentences)
  • problems interacting with others. For example, difficulties understanding the non-verbal rules of good communication or using language in different ways to question, clarify or describe things Some SLCN are short term and can be addressed through effective early intervention. Others are more permanent and will remain with a person throughout their childhood and adult life.



Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Autistic Spectrum Condition

Autism is a spectrum condition and affects people in different ways. Like all people, autistic people have their own strengths and weaknesses. Below is a list of difficulties autistic people may share, including the two key difficulties required for a diagnosis.

Social communication and social interaction challenges

Repetitive and restrictive behaviour

Over or under sensitivity to light, sound, touch or taste.

Highly focused interests and hobbies

Extreme anxiety

Meltdowns and shutdowns


Pathological Demand Avoidance

PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) is widely understood to be a profile on the autism spectrum

A PDA profile of autism means that individuals share autistic characteristics …

  • currently defined as “persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction” and “restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour, activities or interests” present since early childhood to the extent that these “limit and impair everyday functioning” (according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Fifth Edition (DSM-5))
  • often including a different sensory experience in relation to sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing, vestibular, proprioception and interoception.

… and in addition:

  • have a need for control which is often anxiety related
  • are driven to avoid everyday demands and expectations (including things that they want to do or enjoy) to an extreme extent
  • tend to use approaches that are ‘social in nature’ in order to avoid demands
  • present with many of the key features of PDA rather than just one or two
  • tend not to respond to conventional parenting, teaching or support approaches


Adverse Childhood Experiences

ACEs are linked to long-term impacts on an individual’s health, wellbeing and life chances. A growing body of research is revealing the extent to which experiences and events during childhood, such as abuse, neglect and dysfunctional home environments, are associated with the development of a wide range of harmful behaviours including smoking, harmful alcohol use, drug use, risky sexual behaviour, violence and crime. They are also linked to disease such as diabetes, mental illness, cancer and cardiovascular disease and ultimately to premature death.

The ten adverse childhood experiences include five direct ACEs:

  1. sexual abuse by parent/caregiver
  2. emotional abuse by parent/caregiver
  3. physical abuse by parent/caregiver
  4. emotional neglect by parent/caregiver
  5. physical neglect by parent/caregiver

and five indirect ACEs:

  1. parent/caregiver addicted to alcohol/other drugs
  2. witnessed abuse in the household
  3. family member in prison
  4. family member with a mental illness
  5. parent/caregiver disappeared through abandoning family/divorce.




























Social Emotional Mental Health


What does this stand for?

Definition and Source


Social Emotional and Mental Health

  Children and young people may experience a wide range of social and emotional difficulties which manifest themselves in many ways. These may include becoming withdrawn or isolated, as well as displaying challenging, disruptive or disturbing behaviour. These behaviours may reflect underlying mental health difficulties such as anxiety or depression, self-harming, substance misuse, eating disorders or physical symptoms that are medically unexplained. Other children and young people may have disorders such as attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder or attachment disorder.


Behaviour Emotional and Social Difficulties

Behaviour, Emotional and Social Difficulties (BESD) is an umbrella term to describe a range of complex and chronic difficulties experienced by many children and young people. It occurs when a young person is unable to manage their emotions, and is often anxious, scared and misunderstood. The young person may have had early life trauma, been the victim of abuse, or suffered the effects of alcohol and/or drugs misuse before birth. BESD covers a wide range of conditions, some of which include, withdrawal, depression, obsessive preoccupation with eating habits, school phobia, substance misuse, disruptive/antisocial/uncooperative behaviour, anger, threat of/or actual violence. Recent government figures suggest that around 150,000 children in mainstream and special schools are suffering from BESD.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Previously called Attention Deficit Disorder - ADD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects people's behaviour. People with ADHD can seem restless, may have trouble concentrating and may act on impulse.

Most cases are diagnosed when children are under 12 years old, but sometimes it's diagnosed later in childhood.

Sometimes ADHD was not recognised when someone was a child, and they are diagnosed later as an adult.

The symptoms of ADHD may improve with age, but many adults who were diagnosed with the condition at a young age continue to experience problems.

People with ADHD may also have additional problems, such as sleep and anxiety disorders.