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The role of a Special Needs Assistant (SNA)

Info: 3656 words (15 pages) Nursing Assignment
Published: 12th Oct 2021

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This report will outline the role of a Special Needs Assistant (SNA), it will look at the qualities and skills required to fulfil the role. It will also explore the function of multidisciplinary teams and its members. It will also look briefly at the legislation and policies governing working with children and adults with special needs and their rights. The aim of this report is to provide short overview and understanding of this role, and the significance role of the SNA within the educational setting.

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The role of the SNA

The role of a SNA is a non-teaching role, "SNA are recruited specifically to assist in the care of pupils with disabilities in an educational context" (Barrow Learner Resource Pack, 2021). This is a support role; a SNA should never act as a substitute for the teacher. Under instruction from the school principal and class teacher, the SNA, will ensure the needs of the pupil are met on a day-to-day basis, in a safe and consistent environment. The SNA can be an advocate for the child and their parents, whilst ensuring the best interests of the child, are the main priority. The SNA role encompasses various duties, in a number of educational settings. These educational settings can be broken down into three groups, mainstream schools, special schools, and home schooling. It is the responsibility of the school Principal to assign the duties of the individual SNA, as required. (Learner resource pack,2021)

Some of these duties include:

General Duties: getting the classroom ready and tidying up after classes, other designated duties. Aiding pupils with educational tasks they may be unable to do, due physical disability, sensory needs, or social and emotional difficulties, such as writing or typing or aiding in the use of assistive technology equipment. (Learner Resource Pack,2021)

Personal Care: Assisting with clothing, feeding, toileting and any other general hygiene issues, where assistance may be required. (Class notes,2021)

Assisting where intervention may be required: This can involve escorting one or more pupils from the classroom for specific reasons, such as safety, medical or personal care. (Learner resource Pack, 2021)

Assisting Supervision: Aiding the teacher with supervising students during break and yard times, and on trips out, walks and tours, etc.

Assisting with movement: Aiding with movement, such as lifting and use of hoists and other equipment. (Learner Resource Pack,2021)

Assisting with medical Care: assisting where pupil must take medication frequently, for example diabetics may need insulin on a regular basis or blood sugar checks, or where a pupil may have catheterization or others non nursing medical issues. (Class notes,2021)

Assisting with mobility and orientation: Helping the pupil to access classrooms, aiding them in getting on and off buses, or in getting safely from the classroom to waiting parent or guardians. (Learner Resource Pack, 2021)

There are numerous skills and qualities, which are required to fulfil this role, a SNA must be:

Adaptable & Flexible Calm & Consistent Friendly & Patient Caring & Compassionate Respectful & Fair Reliable & Dependable Professional & Confident Initiative & Ability to Take Instruction Possess Good Communication Skills

A friendly positive personality is important in the role of a SNA, some children will tend to see the SNA as a friend and someone they can look up to, a SNA can help to inspire children to connect with others. Due to their disabilities, some children will have behaviour issues, and being able to recognise and pre-empt any incidents arising, is key. Empathy and caring are essential qualities, especially as each pupils' needs are different and, in some cases, can be quite challenging. SNA's must be able to work on their own initiative, whilst adhering to regulations, policies and following the instruction given. An SNA must always remain professional, and must ensure any information regarding the children, parents or other staff are keep strictly confidential. Children can pick up on emotions of those around them, so no matter what the situation is, the SNA must remain calm and collected at all times. Patience is needed, as learning is a slow repetitive process, for many of these children, and consistency is key element to this. (Learner Resource Pack,2021)

SNA's must have good communication skills, the most important person that they will need to be able to connect with is the child in their care. The parents may approach the SNA for advice or information regarding their child, and the SNA should be able to efficiently deal with these queries or relay more serious issues to the class teacher. The SNA should be able to confidently exchange with the class teacher, the principal, and the Multi- Disciplinary team, particularly in relation to the child's IEP, as they may be asked to attend MDT meeting and give their input.

The Multi-Disciplinary Team

A child with special needs must be evaluated for placement in special education, in many cases this may involve several professional individuals, who will work as a team, to deliver tailored plan, known as an IEP (Individualised Education Program), for each child. Listed below are the some of the main members of a Multi-Disciplinary Team.

  • The Principal Class Teacher Education Specialist Psychologist
  • Psychiatrist Behaviour Analyst Speech Therapist Occupational
  • SNA Social worker Dietitian Therapist

The team will meet regularly, where possible every school term and make any changes necessary to the IEP, to ensure that all possible supports are in place. The SNA can have an insightful input to these meeting, they may notice any improvements or deterioration. A successful implementation of this program would mean that, the child receives an adequate education and a chance to develop strong life skills. (Class Notes,2021)


The rights of children, and there to receive an education is paramount, none more so than children with special needs or persons with disabilities, some of the laws and policies which legislate for this are listed below:

  • Equal Status Act 2000 & 2004
  • Education Act 2000
  • Education for Person with Special Educational Needs 2004
  • The Disability Act 2005
  • Access and Inclusion Model 2016
  • United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child (UNCRC) 1989
  • United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) 2006

The UNCRC, article 2 expressly prohibits discrimination, on the grounds of disability, while art 23 acknowledges the right of a child with mental or physical disability to be an active member of society, with has a right to dignity and self -reliance. (Class notes,2021) (gov.ie, 2021) The Education Act 2000, "entitles every person to appropriate education and support" (Class Notes, 2021) While the Access and Inclusion Model, is "model of supports designed to ensure that children with disabilities can access the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme." (aim.gov.ie,2021) (class, notes, 2021) The most significant legislation regarding children with special needs is EPSEN, this act promotes inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream education where possible, unless it effects the provision of education of other children, or the best interests of the child. (Class notes,2021)

I feel that I would make a good candidate for the role of SNA, as I have calm, caring nature. In my previous roles I have had to learn to deal efficiently and quickly with any situations as they arise. I have strong communication skills, and due to personal circumstance, I have experience dealing with a person with behaviour issues and mental impairment. In conclusion the role of an SNA, although sometimes challenging, would be extremely rewarding. SNA's have a pivotal role in helping to provide an education for children with special needs, ensuring the holistic needs of the child are met.

Reference Sheet

Class Notes (2020) SpecialNeeds Assisting. Carlow; Barrow Training

Barrow Learner Resource Pack, (2019). Special Needs Assisting. Carlow; Barrow Training AIM. (2021). Access and Inclusion Model. [online]. Available; https://aim.gov.ie/. [Accessed 16 January 2021].

Assets. (2021). United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child. [online]. Available; https://assets.gov.ie/23814/5339ee8c9c564b37969703db9781bc0d.pdf. [Accessed 16 January 2021].


Practical Task - Simulated Role Play


Timothy is five and a half years old, he has mild Cerebral Palsy, and as a result he suffers with stiff muscles, involuntary movements, and a lack of muscle co-ordination. Timothy has difficulty with the movement of his left arm, so he requires assistance in putting on his coat on safely and successfully. It is important to allow him to do, any elements of the task himself, that he can himself, while giving continuous encouragement and praise throughout the task.

Planning and Preparation

I began this task by familiarising myself with the condition Cerebral Palsy, in the hope it would give me an insight into Timothy's disabilities, and to help me, in preparing for this task. Next,

I ensured the area we were using is clear of any hazards, as Timothy's safety and wellbeing is paramount. Having introduced myself to Timothy, I slowly, calmly and in clear and simple language, I went through each step with Timothy. I also used PECs (Picture Exchange Communication), to help explain to Timothy what we will be doing today. For his comfort and safety during this task, I asked him if he would prefer to sit or stand. Each step of the task is outlined below.


1. Firstly, I ensured the area was clear of any hazards, that could have caused Timothy to trip or fall and hurt himself.

2.Bending down and ensuring that I am at Timothy's eye level, I introduced myself to Timothy. 3.I then used a PEC card to explain Timothy that we were going to put on his coat and go outside. Confirming with him that he is happy to do so.

4. I asked Timothy to help clear his bag, and other items away, to ensure we had room to complete the task safely, again offering encouragement and praise.

5.I asked Timothy if he wanted to get his coat, which he is did, and again I offered praise.

6.To put on his coat in a way which is easiest and safest for him, I asked Timothy if he would like to sit or stand while we put on his coat, he indicated he wanted to stand.

7.By putting my hand in through the cuff of his jacket, I put the cuff over his wrist and rolled the sleeve up his arm and then slide the coat across his back, I asked him if he was able to put on the other sleeve, which he did. I told how good he was doing and giving him praise.

8. Finally, I asked Timothy if he could do up his zip himself or if he needed my help, he indicated he could, and he zipped up his jacket successfully, again I gave him praise and encouragement, telling him how well he did, and that we could go outside.


I felt the task went well, and that I communicated well with Timothy, this led to Timothy and I being more at ease and overall making the task easier. As a result of completing this task, I believe I would feel more confident performing this or other care routines in the future. Personally, I feel I learned a valuable lesson form this task, prior to doing this task I probably would have performed more of the task myself, in the belief I was helping him, I now realise that would be a disservice. Although Timothy needs assistance with this task, by letting him do the steps that he can himself, it is building his life skills and promoting his independence. I have also learned how important it is to be prepared and organised, when carrying out these routines.

Professionally I feel I have gained a better understanding of the use of care routines, and the importance of being calm, and using clear and simple language when performing these tasks. I have also learned how beneficial the use of PEC cards and other communication aids are, by showing timothy the pictures symbolising his coat and going outside, it helped him to understand what we were doing and what we would be doing next.

I would recommend where possible the use of jackets or other items of clothing with Velcro or rip tape, would be more beneficial, as it would make tasks like this easier for him to do himself. Playing with play-doh or Lego are among some ways to improve a child's fine motor skills, which will in turn aid the child to do perform these tasks.

Care routines are extremely important and beneficial to both the child and the SNA, as they ensure the tasks are carried out safely and in a consistent manner, which aids the child in learning that life skill. By performing the care routine in a structured manner, it also helps to build trust for the child in the relationship between them and the SNA. Repeating these tasks will also aid a child's development, and all while help to bolster the confidence and self-esteem of the child and promote the child's independence.


Meeting to discuss proposed strategies to support Leah

Tiny Tears Preschool

Attendees: Leah's Parents

Preschool Manager

Preschool Leader


Topics: Proposed Strategies

Discuss Strategies

Parents Input

Preschool Leaders suggestions

Any Queries


Meeting Minutes

Strategy Meeting 10.00-11.30am 13/02/2021

In Attendance:

Leah's parents

Preschool Manager

Preschool Leader

SNA – Mary Coyne


Strategies proposed to support Leah

1. Buddy System

2. Modified Activities

3. Reinforcement

4. Communication book

5. Visual Timetable


- Leah's parents have offered positive feedback regarding the strategies discussed.

- They are willing to commit to use of communication book at home.

- Preschool leader will consider the modifying of activities.

- Where possible leader has consented to Leah being paired up with another child for certain tasks.


All parties agreed to trial of Visual Timetable.

To be reviewed in four weeks.

Minutes taken by Mary Coyne 13/02/2021

Proposed Strategies to Support Leah

The five strategies which I have proposed to support Leah are as follow:

Buddy System

The Buddy system works by pairing the child who needs support with another child for certain tasks, this encourages inclusion and interaction, and will help Leah to develop friendships and social skills. In doing this, Leah will be able to see the other child complete the task, and this may help Leah to learn how to complete tasks more calmly.

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Simplified Activities

As Leah's has difficulty completing tasks and following instruction, simplifying tasks will help to make them easier for her to follow. This may involve shortening the task or helping Leah start a task. If she can complete tasks when her classmates do, this will help prevent frustration or irate behaviour, as she will feel she is part of the group.

Reinforcement/ Encouragement

All children benefit from encouragement and praise. By reinforcing Leah's good behaviour and offering praise and encouragement, it will help to bolster her confidence. Over time it will also help to show her that bad behaviour is not acceptable.

Communication Book

The communication book is an excellent way to keep the lines of communication open with the child's parents and all staff who are interacting Leah. The Preschool leader and/or SNA complete the book daily, as do the parents. The entries might include information, such as if she has been ill, not eating, not sleeping or any behavioural issues. This can benefit all those involved in her care, helping to identify what triggers her frustration and by showing any patterns or issues which may arise.

Visual Timetable

As children with autism often have difficulty with communication, for this reason visual aids can be extremely helpful. A visual timetable works by laying out in pictures, the daily tasks, which the child will be expected to take part in. This method will help Leah to understand what each day will entail, thus adding structure and routine. This will start with arriving at preschool, daily tasks, break time and ending with home time.

Planning, Implementation & Review of Selected Strategy

Of the strategies discussed, the strategy that I feel would be of most benefit to Leah, is the visual timetable, there are a number of variations of picture led communication aids, the style of timetable which I planned to use is shown in the pictures attached. I have planned a visual timetable which is tailored to suit Leah's needs.

This timetable is colour coded by day, using bright colours in this way helps Leah to learn and recognise the days of the week. Each day has five individual boxes, three of these have core activities and the other two are interchangeable, these boxes can be closed, when each daily activity is completed. Each day begins with a picture of a coat and schoolbag hanging up, signifying the beginning of the school day. The purpose of this, is to show Leah that the first task, when she arrives at preschool, is to hang up her coat and bag. Break time and home time are also represented every day in core activities.

This timetable shows Leah the structure of each day, for example by knowing that drawing is followed by lunch, and then sand play on Mondays it will help her to transition from one activity to another. These interchangeable cards are used to signify the different tasks or activities, such as reading, painting, singing and outdoor play. On the outside of each box is a sticker, in Leah' s case we have used dog stickers, as Leah is fascinated by dogs. The stickers work as a reinforcement of her successfully completing the activities, and as a reward for doing so. On the back of the timetable is a sheet with picture cards that symbolises needs that Leah may have, but can not verbalise, such as going to toilet or being hungry, tired, or thirsty. There is also a class rule picture sheet, this shows behaviours expected for each child in the class.

To implement this timetable, it was important to introduce Leah to it slowly, giving her time to get used to using it. The timetable has two interchangeable tasks for each day, more tasks can be added later, if it is adopted long term. By ensuring each task is completed before closing the box, it helps Leah to understand the importance of completing tasks and encourages her to focus on tasks on by one. This process must be given time to work, we initially trialled this support for four weeks, over this time we observed, whether there was any improvement in her behaviour, her interaction with others and completion of tasks. This support, although slow and repetitive, gives the kind of structure required by children with Autism.

Finally, we reviewed how this support has impacted Leah's performances. Although this process was slow and somewhat difficult to begin with, as initially Leah ignored our attempts to use it. It took three to four days before she showed any interest, but the end of week three she began to use it, without anyone else initiating it. Other children have shown interest in the timetable and gives her encouragement when she uses it, Leah's love of dogs, has shown in her delight each time she closes a box and completes a task.After four weeks of using this support, Leah is beginning to transition between tasks, with minimal issue, and communicate her needs using the picture sheet on the back of timetable. All parties have noticed improvements in her behaviour, and although Leah still displays the occasional frustration, for the most part she has become much calmer and more confident and will attempt to communicate.

In conclusion, I would recommend continuing with the use of this timetable, and possibly adding more tasks slowly, and eventually maybe using with other supports such as Lamh, which in time would mean the use of the timetable could be phased out. It is important to continue reviewing this support regularly to ensure it remains consistently effective.


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