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The Dynamic Needs Assessment tool for the Special Educational Population (DNAT-SEN)

What is the tool?

The Dynamic Needs Assessment (DNAT-SEN) tool is to be used at universal services level for children or young people not known to services, or for referral to a single point of entry to a multi-agency service (Wee et al., 2021). It would be used to identify children who may not be receiving a service but may have unrecognised needs requiring one or more different services – including a combination of unidentified neurodevelopmental needs, mental health, special education needs or community/social care needs.

It has been designed to be completed using objective information known from educational records and to be used with children of school or college age primary or secondary or 6th form).

The DNAT-SEN tool contains questions relating to factors related to needs in four areas.

•           Neurodiversity needs

•           Mental health needs*   

•           Other special educational needs

•           Community needs **

* Mental health needs come under special educational needs according to the code of practice of the Children’s and Families Act 2014.

** Community support including social care support, commissioned local authority services such as short breaks, or the Early Help Offer.

Neurodiversity needs refer to either; a profile of cognitive, sensory or communication needs requiring reasonable adjustments, that are consistent with an inclusive approach to neurodiversity or the presence of possibly one or more neurodevelopmental conditions that require diagnostic assessment. These are separate from mental health conditions but may co-occur with them.

Mental health needs indicates that support or referral for local mental health / emotional wellbeing support is required, either within the educational setting, or the local Thrive offer including the Voluntary Community Faith Sector (VCFS) or formally commissioned by the NHS.

Special educational needs refer to other special educational needs apart from mental health needs as defined by the code of practice of the Children’s and Families Act 2014.

Community support needs includes support required by the family in order to access the community, or function on a daily basis, including social care support, commissioned local authority services such as short breaks, or the Early Help Offer.



The child has hearing or visual impairment

The child is recorded in school records as having a hearing or visual impairment

The child has learning needs:

The child has learning needs recorded in school records as:


Concerns: Initial concerns have been raised by the parent/s with the school.


SEN support: The child is on the SEN support register or recorded as requiring SEN support on their records or has a recorded learning difficulty such as dyslexia.


EHCP: The Child has an Education, Health and Care Plan.


None: The child is not recorded as having any specific learning needs or learning difficulties.

Intellectual disability/ Global Developmental Delay

The child is recorded as having a formal diagnosis of  Intellectual disability, also  known as Global Developmental Delay, this may also be recorded as  mild moderate, severe or profound learning disability.

More than two fixed term exclusions in the last two years

The child is recorded as having more than 2 fixed term exclusions within the last 2 years

Recorded issues with school attendance

School records note : 

Repeated patterns: The child is noted to have a repeating predictable pattern of absence related to a day or subject or circumstance


On site/not learning: The child is on the site of the educational setting but not accessing the curriculum or learning.


Poor overall attendance: There are concerns about the child s overall level of attendance.

Persistent difficulties managing change or transitions

The child is recorded as requiring support or structure in place to manage change, unpredictability or transitions.

The child is recorded as having hypo/hyper sensory sensitivity

No: None recorded


Reported/screening: These have been reported to the school or found on using a screening tool, but no intervention or adaptation of the environment has been needed so far 


Requires support: The chils sensory processing differences have required adaptation or support in the school environment.

Close degree relative with NDD*

Yes: A close (e.g first degree) relative is recorded as having a diagnosis or suspected neurodevelopmental condition such as autism or ADHD.


The relative must be a biological relative. 

Persistent issues with concentration that are not recent and have lasted more than six months (and are not obviously due to another issue)

No: There are no persistent issues with concentration.


Yes: there are persistent issues with concentration, that are not a recent occurrence and have lasted more than six months.

There are problems in peer/intimate relationships on/or offline.

No: There are no significant problems in peer or intimate relationships - on/offline.


Yes: There are problems in peer or intimate relationships - on/offline, that are noted and records and have required intervention or support.

Neurodevelopmental condition (or awaiting assessment)

yes: The child has a diagnosis of a neurodevelopmental condition, such as Autism, ADHD, tics or Tourette’s, or Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or they are on a waiting list for assessment or is currently being referred for assessment.


No: The child does not have a diagnosis and is not being referred or on an assessment waiting list.

Concerns abut food and drink recorded

Long term fussy eating 


Concerns about overeating impacting on health


Restricting food and drink

The child is receiving/has received mental health support.

Yes: The child is currently open to child and young person mental health services (CYPMHS) , or has had past  contact/received mental health support  including any referral for mental health support including CYPMHS.


No: There has been no such contact

Concerns about risk to self due to suicidal thoughts/self harm/ self injurious behaviour

Are there current concerns? 

Has the child previously presented with a mental health crisis ?

Has the child presented to accident and emergency or another service/agency due to a mental health emergency ?

Separation from care giver

Has there been a separation from the main care giver in the past or present, due to any of the following?


The care giver leaving the family






Other traumatic circumstances.

Risk of harm to others

Has there been a risk of harm to others?


Has it been occasional/rare?


If occurring more frequently – is it non- intentional or intentional?

Missing from home or absconding

Are there significant concerns about repeatedly being missing from home or absconding from educational settings.

Inappropriate sexualised behaviours

Are there concerns about Inappropriate sexualised behaviours?

Current recorded safeguarding concerns

Are there concerns about Inappropriate sexualised behaviours?

Contact with social care

This includes  


Receiving support from early help services


Being a child in need (CIN) or receiving support from the team around a family (TAF) process


Being on the Child protection register / or a Looked after child.

Concerns about risk to self due to risk taking behaviours or vulnerability

Currently engaging in risk taking behaviours.

Presented in crisis to social care in last month

There are concerns about a childs’ risk to themselves due to risk taking behaviours or vulnerability to being taken advantage of by from others.

The young person is open to Youth Justice Services*

The child is known to youth justice services or in contact with the criminal justice system

Family has more than one child with Neurodevelopmental condition or disability or moderate to severe mental health need in the same household

Parent-carers are providing care for more than one child with a Neurodevelopmental condition or a disability, or moderate to severe mental health need in the same household. 


Moderate / severe mental health needs meet threshold for CAMHS tier 3 or 4 or requires support from the Thrive Getting More Help, or Risk Management offer.


Neurodevelopmental condition – means a diagnosed or suspected (awaiting assessment).


Disability is defined by the Equality Act as” a physical or mental impairment that has a 'substantial' and 'long-term' negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities”.

Parent/Carers' disability or health needs means that family requires support.

This may be based on parent carers’ feelings or noted by professionals.

The tool can be completed by any professional that knows the child. The items are scored based on objective knowledge, based on what is in the child s’ records or known to the professional. It can also be completed by professionals and parent carers together.

Completion of the tool will produce a visual profile – in the pilot version , this shows the proportion of each area , that the child scores as having needs in. In the final version it will show low , moderate and high levels of need for each area.

How can the tool help?

The tool provides a profile of needs across the 4 areas for each child, encouraging a more holistic approach, earlier identification of needs and intervention.

The tool includes guidance on what support should be considered for low, moderate, and high needs in each of the four areas.

A validation pilot is being carried out to determine the cut off scores for low, moderate, and high needs in each of the four areas.

To take part in the pilot or find out more please email: