Cognition and Learning (C&L)

Advice for professionals working with SEND aged 11 to 14

This SEND Index of Harms resource is for children and young people (CYP) with Cognition and Learning need. It is broken down by the strands from the Education for a Connected World Framework.

Self-image and identity

This strand explores the differences between online and offline identity beginning with self-awareness, shaping online identities and media influence in propagating stereotypes. It identifies effective routes for reporting and support and explores the impact of online technologies on self-image and behaviour. (Education for a Connected World framework – 2020 edition, UK Council for Internet Safety)

Likely Harm: Impact of technology on self-image and identity


  • CYP unable to understand term ‘identity’ or inform other key adults of potential concerns
  • CYP’ inability to recognise that images have been digitally manipulated or how content may be targeted to influence body image e.g. fashion, pornography
  • CYP may not be able to understand key vocabulary use online
  • CYP may be vulnerable to manipulation and engage in harmful actions online in order to appease and please others
  • CYP may be easily coerced and threatened by believing the online presence able to physically contact them

Possible responses

  • Role-play scenarios (face behind the screen)
  • Life stories where appropriate e.g. Share news stories about predators
  • Workshop on ‘Sexting’, choice and associated risks
  • Work on self-esteem e.g. ‘Dove Project’ 5x 45-60 minute sessions
  • Use of external visitors to complement internal expertise on sharing appropriate use and risks associated with social media
  • How to stay safe online – parental/carer workshops or information leaflets
  • Discussion about appropriate use and possible threats arising from social media platforms
  • Activities to develop CYP sense of self-worth and the capacity to report any encouragement to self-harm
  • Activities to develop reassurance around reporting threats

Online relationships

This strand explores how technology shapes communication styles and identifies strategies for positive relationships in online communities. It offers opportunities to discuss relationships, respecting, giving and denying consent and behaviours that may lead to harm and how positive online interaction can empower and amplify voice. (Education for a Connected World framework – 2020 edition, UK Council for Internet Safety)

Likely Harm: Relationships, consent and behaviours leading to harm


  • Communication/Cognition difficulties affect CYP ability to make the right choices and raise their vulnerability to being negatively influenced, including  grooming, radicalisation and coercion
  • This may lead to CYP being coerced into sharing materials amongst their peers without realising its content could be harmful or hurtful

Possible responses

  • Make effective use of parental controls within software and Apps
  • Spend time talking with CYP about what it is to be a friend and the true value of friendship
  • Support conversations with visual cues/ prompts/ scaffolds to help explain key words
  • Recognise that CYP may have a desire for a romantic or sexual relationship
  • Use appropriate terminology and levels of language to discuss the risks of online relationships, e.g. fake profiles/sharing private thoughts
  • Discuss with CYP about how some photos/images online could be seen as sexy or provocative by others and the inherent risks associated with this behaviour
  • Use appropriate levels of language to explain terminology such as sexting or coercive behaviour
  • Provide specific teaching supported with appropriate activity packs and videos to introduce new or to reinforce learning about sharing images, online gaming, watching videos, social media and live streaming
  • Educate parent/carers about how CYP can use nude selfies through the provision of online resources, information leaflets and workshops
    High vigilance from adults including CYP being asked to keep ‘contact lists’ showing who they contact and what the nature of that contact is.

Online reputation

This strand explores the concept of reputation and how others may use online information to make judgements. It offers opportunities to develop strategies to manage personal digital content effectively and capitalise on technology’s capacity to create effective positive profiles. (Education for a Connected World framework – 2020 edition, UK Council for Internet Safety)

Likely Harm: Others may use your online reputation to make judgements about you


  • CYP may not be able to use appropriate vocabulary to describe opinions, values, and judgements in a range of online settings
  • CYP may have poor understanding of how online information services hold and share their online identity
  • CYP may not be able to distinguish between their real and online personalities or identity
  • CYP may be too open in sharing information about themselves, their families, their location
  • CYP may be attracted to engaging personalities with strong online reputations which are not real
  • CYP may not understand some of the language being used by peers online

Possible responses

  • Use strategies such as Art Therapy, behaviour therapy for ‘speaking’ to provide opportunities  to discuss self-harm and risks/reasons
  • Make effective use of CBT to provide opportunities to discuss topics such as self-harm and the associated online risks
  • Clearly explain the meaning of key vocabulary using appropriate levels of language and promote understanding through the use of visual resources
  • Activities focused on ‘Private Things and Not Private Things’
  • CYP should be encouraged to share their ideas about who they admire and why. Adults might challenge this and open discourse into who we admire and why
  • Buddy system to help CYP understand the language used

Online bullying

This strand explores bullying and other online aggression and how technology impacts those issues. It offers strategies for effective reporting and intervention and considers how bullying and other aggressive behaviour relates to legislation. (Education for a Connected World framework – 2020 edition, UK Council for Internet Safety)

Likely Harm: Bullying and aggression can harm others


  • CYP may appear anxious, unexplained headaches, physical symptoms.They may present withdrawal and isolating behaviours
  • CYP limited emotional and/or cognitive development may mean they do not comprehend how their online actions may make others feel
  • CYP limited vocabulary or communication skills/ abilities may mean that they cannot describe ways people can be bullied
    through a range of media (e.g. image, video, text, chat)
  • CYP may not understand how and when they can block abusive users
  • CYP may have limited understanding of the the ways they can share and report concerns about abuse
  • CYP may have a lack of understanding of laws that govern online behaviour
  • CYP may have a fear of reprisals which may lead to self-harm or the need to look online for other escapes
  • Professionals may hold concerns about this group of CYP being targeted for radicalisation or exploitation online due to their behavioural vulnerabilities and emotional needs to belong
  • CYP may be coerced into bullying others on behalf of peers in order to win social favour
  • CYP desire to become independent in the online world may prevent them reporting bullying

Possible responses

  • Focused discussions, using appropriately pitched vocabulary and complexity of language, about different aspects of what bullying looks like so that CYP know how to identify it
  • Specific teaching of how and when to block “friends” on social networking sites , including gaming groups
  • Promotion of effective ways to share concerns and report abuse. This includes developing CYP confidence and access to talk to a responsible adult to help them handle the situation
  • Emphasise learning on behaving fairly and respectfully to everyone.
    Focused activities on how to seek and secure appropriate help and support

Managing Online Information

This strand explores how online information is found, viewed and interpreted. It offers strategies for effective searching, critical evaluation of data, the recognition of risks and the management of online threats and challenges. It explores how online threats can pose risks to our physical safety as well as online safety. It also covers learning relevant to ethical publishing. (Education for a Connected World framework – 2020 edition, UK Council for Internet Safety)

Likely Harm: Online information can be found, viewed and interpreted


  • Limited vocabulary will limit ability to search and navigate online content effectively to draw information. This may cause frustration and low self-esteem
  • Unable to accurately assess true/false content which has been selected to misinform. e.g. fake news
  • CYP may not understand how cookies can be used to target sales

Possible responses

  • Teach CYP with SpLD clear rules that they can follow relating to online safety
  • Make effective use of stories and role play to develop CYP understanding and empathy to online safety scenarios and allow them to model and refine their possible responses
  • Choices – make use of cause and consequences activities to develop understanding of cause and effect
  • Use visuals to support teaching about voice activated software Key words/language explained
  • Use external speakers with knowledge of online safety including the safe use of social media platforms, to supplement high quality first teaching by knowledgeable staff
  • Show CYP how cookies are stored on devices and how these affect searches

Health, wellbeing and lifestyle

This strand explores the impact that technology has on health, well-being and lifestyle e.g. mood, sleep, body health and relationships. It also includes understanding negative behaviours and issues amplified and sustained by online technologies and the strategies for dealing with them. (Education for a Connected World framework – 2020 edition, UK Council for Internet Safety)

Likely Harm: Technology can impact on mood, sleep, body health and relationships


  • Vulnerable to accessing sites giving harmful advice and unable to see potential risks
  • Open to peer pressure to engage in risky behaviours such as prolonged gaming or screen time activities lack of language skills limits abilities to evaluate risks
  • CYP with adolescent onset of neurological conditions such as epilepsy may be adversely affected by prolonged time in front of a screen which may not be easily detected

Possible responses

  • Focused teaching about appropriate screen time limits and behaviours, including clear explanation of what is a safe environments to go online
  • They should use language and supporting materials appropriate to CYP communication needs and stages of development (not necessarily linked to age)
  • Monitor closely time spent using a range of devices. Focus activities on enabling CYP to identify and report symptoms

Privacy and security

This strand explores how personal online information can be used, stored, processed and shared. It offers both behavioural and technical strategies to limit impact on privacy and protect data and systems against compromise. (Education for a Connected World framework – 2020 edition, UK Council for Internet Safety)

Likely Harm: Personal information can be stored, used and shared which can lead to harm


  • CYP unable to deal with concepts that help keep information secure such as passwords including two factor authentication
  • Potential issues in understanding the concept of consent
  • Unable to understand the security of devices connected to the internet that may be compromised e.g. webcams, monitors, phones, or toys

Possible responses

  • Ensure staff are knowledgeable about the concepts of internet privacy and are confident to be able to amend language to promote CYP understanding at individuals level of development
  • Make use of effective risk assessment to identify possible threats to CYP health and wellbeing arising from their use of technology e.g. screen time, location of devices, environmental threats such as drug gangs, gaming trends and habits of use

Copyright and ownership

This strand explores the concept of ownership of online content. It explores strategies for protecting personal content and crediting the rights of others as well as addressing potential consequences of illegal access, download and distribution. (Education for a Connected World framework – 2020 edition, UK Council for Internet Safety)

Likely Harm: Potential consequences of illegal access, download and distribution of content


  • Poor cognition / short term memory difficulties make it difficult to understand permission of online information
  • Vulnerable to illegal/legal downloading of online content
  • CYP may be used to obtain content illegally for others

Possible responses

  • Focused teaching about ownership using personal information in profiles
  • Use of visual stimulus to exemplify and guide CYP to develop understanding of voice activated software
  • Ensure CYP are familiar with key words and language and understand the required terms
  • Provide CYP with clear rules and actions to take if they are coerced into obtaining content or mistakenly obtain content illegally

Useful resources

See our list of useful resources for further support.

Inclusive digital safety resources

Professional Online Safety Helpline

Over 13 – Report Harmful Content Professional Online Safety Helpline

Project Envolve

Childnet Star resource

SEND: Cognition and Learning (C&L)

Advice by Age

Use our list of practical tips to help children have a safer online experience and get the best out of the digital world as they grow.

Making the internet safer and more inclusive

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