Help your special child retain what they learn

How to learn and retain

11/3/20232 min read

boy in blue and white plaid shirt reading book
boy in blue and white plaid shirt reading book

Many children with special educational needs (SEN) take a longer time to learn than their peers. Many of them are visual learners and for them it is useful to present information using drawings or illustrations. Diagrams, mind maps, and sketches can be useful in improving understanding and are easier to remember than reading the text alone.

The use of colours to create appeal is another technique that has proven useful. Where possible ask the child to help you colour the drawings or highlight text. Make it fun and where possible intersperse the activity with movement. For example, do a bit or colouring and then ask the child to identify an
item in the house that has that colour. Hop, skip, jump and dance around until you find the item, prompting the child where necessary.

Information is hard to remember if it does not make sense. Once your child starts to read you should avoid complicated sentences – keep it simple. Say, for example, “the baby is crying”. Feel free to make faces to show what is meant by crying, don’t be afraid to look stupid.


It is useful to classify your sessions into themes grouping areas that relate to each other. For example, my little girl is learning about “Royalty” at school at the moment. She is being taught about the Queen of England and her great grandchildren – Prince George and Princess Charlotte. In exploring that topic I introduce other vocabulary such as the castle, the guards, the jewels, the colour of the princess’ dress, etc. Widen the vocabulary around the particular theme you are trying to explore.


It is easier to remember well organised information. Try to find a meaningful structure for the information, identifying the significant areas and breaking them down ideas into sections. If necessary make a mindmap (for yourself) to plan ideas. It may be easier to remember one series of connected ideas rather than a lot of separate points. This may be more useful in assisting children of secondary school age and young adults who may be subject to assessments in their educational institutions.

The Pocket Learner Educational System is useful in enabling children with SEN to test their learning. Active revision (using the material) is said to be more effective than passive revision (eg: reading and copying). Bring your revision activities to life by creating opportunities for the child to “do” rather than to “say”. Let them demonstrate understanding by doing. For example: for younger children learning basic words let them label items in the house with the written words.

Make the information more memorable by using sounds, images or gestures to go with the words. Children with SEN understand information more easily if they learn the relevant signs even though they are able to use spoken language.


Finally, create opportunities for learning on a daily basis. Speak to your child often introducing new vocabulary and exploring concepts. Even if they do not seem to be understanding, do persevere, for they will, if only we exercise patience. A life without learning is empty. Help your children to live and thrive by encouraging
them to keep learning.