2nd June 2006 at 01:00

Familiarity with special needs is now an important part of gaining qualified teacher or higher level teaching assistant status. But this growing and ever more complex body of specialist knowledge is daunting, especially since much of it seems to be concerned with the legislative framework, "official" structures and a bewildering array of acronyms.

This handbook succeeds at unpicking many of the complexities. As well as providing information in accessible language, each chapter also contains reflection points to challenge thinking and help readers relate what they've read to their own experience. Course tutors may also find these points useful for promoting discussion and setting assignments.

The first part of the book provides a guide to legislation and the Code of Practice, as well as a historical overview of changing attitudes - a history that describes the change from many children with special needs being perceived as ineducable to one of growing understanding and expertise.

The author also provides an overview of many areas of need, including autistic spectrum disorders and specific learning difficulties. She recognises that many of these areas require specialist knowledge, and gives references to other reading and web-based information. Her advice on teaching tends to be generic rather than specific.

The final section of the book explores school-based training and issues such as school placements. For its breadth and accessibility, this will be a great support to its target audience and course tutors.

Olivia O'Sullivan. Assistant director, Centre for Language in Primary Education

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