Cognition and Learning (C&L)

Advice for professionals working with SEND aged 14 to 18

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


  • Unable to fully comprehend the impact social media can have on oneself or others, including limited capacity to identify appropriate role models
  • CYP may have language ability below age related peers which can lead to misinterpretation of online terminology or lead to inability to discriminate between false and accurate information
  • CYP often may confuse purpose and context
  • CYP will want to develop an online presence like their siblings and peers but will not understand that online images are often enhanced and altered and therefore develop unrealistic expectations of their own image
  • CYP will be extremely vulnerable to financial abuse due to the ease of online payment methods
  • CYP may be lured into extremist groups in order to develop a sense of belonging could be coerced into actions and activities
  • CYP may be ‘dared’ into harmful and unsafe actions in order prove themselves
  • CYP may engage in offensive and unpleasant behaviour without appreciating the permanence of these actions and the reputational damage which arises from this
  • The lack of age-appropriate online material for people with learning disabilities may lead to CYP relying on immature content which hinders their development and maturation processes

Possible responses

  • Workshop on ‘Sexting’, choice and associated risks
  • Visual cues/prompts /resources to support understanding of key concepts/language
  • Role play scenarios (face behind the screen)
  • Life stories where appropriate
  • Work on self-esteem e.g. ‘Dove Project’ 5x 45-60 minute sessions
  • Discussion relating to the appropriate use of and possible threats arising from the use of social media platforms
  • How to stay safe online – parental/carer workshops and/or information leaflets
  • Mentor-buddy system with trusted, screened peers to act as responsible guides
  • Activities to enable CYP to understand how images can be enhanced and altered
  • Incorporate online safety and cyber security into financial management lessons
  • Develop PSHE lessons focusing on self-worth and understanding how others perceive you
  • Activities focused on extremism combined with close vigilance and clarity on reporting processes
  • Targeted lessons explicitly outlining criminal acts, on unpleasant behaviour and offensive online behaviour and its impact on themselves and others

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 leave CYP vulnerable online to legal accountabilities
  • CYP may be under threat of being targeted by illegal online behaviour through their inability to comprehend risk
  • CYP may be deceived into believing that they are loving, romantic relationships and be vulnerable to sexual exploitation and may misinterpret peers being friendly with peers being attracted to them. This could result in offending behaviour such as online stalking and harassment

Possible responses

  • Have appropriate monitoring in place and ensure leaders identify threats arising from inappropriate or risky behaviour incidents or patterns
  • Consider the informed use of or the disabling of  location tracking information on devices
  • Frequently promote CYP understanding that information shared on the internet is not private. Where possible use real life examples to exemplify the message to protect personal data where appropriate
  • Ensure CYP are taught about appropriate responses to content/ messages that they may feel is hurtful or inflammatory
  • Ensure that CYP have access to effective reporting pathways to raise any concerns they may have
  • As a professional, ask questions. Learn about how to use the social media websites that your CYP are using
  • Educate parents/carers about a range of online topics including, CYP using nude selfies, the use of social media and current and emerging risks linked to the context of the school/ establishment
  • Focused work on the difference between friendship and romantic love and what different characteristics are found in each

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 weak cognition and language may lead them to have an understanding well below that exhibited by similar aged peers. This can lead to difficulty in their abilities to promote a positive representation of themselves. This is particular the case on social media and in applications for employment, training or education
  • CYP may develop a reputation for naivety which leaves them vulnerable to mockery and manipulation
  • CYP may unwittingly insult and upset peers

Possible responses

  • Support parents/carers to know how to; review the browsing history regularly, disable location-tagging on mobile devices
  • Use a range of effective teaching strategies to help CYP understand that information shared on the internet is not private
  • Review information that should not be shared (personal details, passwords, and credit card numbers)
  • Explain the limits to online relationships
  • Encourage your CYP not to delete messages, including those that are hurtful or don’t feel right
  • Sessions supported with activity packs and videos on new or reinforced learning about sharing images, online gaming, watching videos, social media and live streaming
  • Educate parent/carers on CYP using nude selfies – online resource for parents or led workshops
  • Focused activities on ‘Self-presentation for Self-preservation’
  • Activities highlighting the appropriate language to use on the internet.

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 language not at age appropriate level and therefore unable to intervene or deter offenders from taking control
  • CYP are highly vulnerable to exploitation and radicalisation
  • CYP present a lack of understanding of law breaking and criminalised activity which could escalate anxiety
  • CYP are unable to understand perceived risks and communicate to a trusted adult that there is danger of harm
  • CYP may be lured to locations in order to be attacked
  • CYP may not realise the damage they are causing to others because they regard their online activity as banter and teasing
  • CYP may be easily provoked into threatening behaviour

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
  • Effective use of visual supports to promote learning and understanding
  • Use of role play situations to develop understanding, empathy and rehearse appropriate responses to risky situations
  • Effective use of social stories to develop understanding and rehearse appropriate responses
  • Activities focused on the dangers of meeting people in the real world who you only know online
  • Activities focused on staying calm and being above the provocation

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


  • Unable to assess how their digital personality may affect information returned e.g. especially own age and age appropriate content
  • Limited vocabulary will limit ability to search online
  • May not be able to comprehend or understand what is legal to view and share online, consequently breaking the law without realising. This can result in anxiety, emotional reactions and behaviour
  • Unable to identify when content has been politically sponsored e.g. extremism, ideological persuasion, rendering them vulnerable to be easily persuaded, groomed or coerced into inappropriate and possible illegal behaviours
  • CYP may be susceptible to online financial fraud and may not adequately protect their online identity
  • CYP may not appreciate that bots are not real people
  • CYP may be harmed by seeing themselves as ‘unliked’ compared to others without understanding these are artificially generated ‘likes’

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
  • Be wary about using external speakers that dwell on the legality of actions without promoting the strategies that CYP can use to make informed and appropriate choices. Scare tactics seldom work
  • Use finance lessons to emphasise online risks
  • Focused activities showing how some online activity is computer generated and the impact it can have

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


  • Limited language and communication skills has negative impact on ability to identify and comprehend laws around age related access and online sharing
  • May be unable to see the risks of online sources e.g. self-diagnosis/misunderstanding of information and self-medicate unnecessarily
  • CYP may develop unhealthy expectations of themselves influenced by body images that are portrayed online

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 health closely and advise CYP to always seek medical advice
  • Focused activities on being ‘Proud of Me’ and information on how body image can impact on health and well-being

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 understand key terms such as the term ‘whistle blow’
  • CYP lack of knowledge and confidence in language and communication lead them to accept rather than challenge inappropriate actions
  • CYP limited levels of development and often sheltered experiences lead to a lack of knowledge of the dark and deep webs and the inherent risks they present
  • CYP may be prone to sharing private information and therefore open to identity theft
  • CYP may not remember to turn off webcams thereby allowing access to private spaces at unguarded times

Possible responses

  • Ensure staff are knowledgeable and confident about the concepts of internet privacy and know about the existence and threats relating to the dark and deep webs
  • Make use of effective risk assessment to identify possible threats to CYP arising from their inquisitiveness of the dark and deep web
  • Make effective use of links to other curriculum areas linked to health and wellbeing to reinforce online safety teaching / concepts and to reinforce / promote understanding of key vocabulary
  • Make effective use of links to other curriculum areas linked to health and wellbeing to reinforce online safety teaching / concepts and to reinforce / promote understanding of key vocabulary
  • Ensure staff and CYP develop appropriate levels of trust to provide accessible pathways to report concerns and worries using appropriate language to meet CYP needs
  • Frequent reminders of the need to maintain privacy

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 compared to age related peers make it difficult to understand copyright theft and online legal/illegal permissions
  • CYP may not be able to protect content they produce and be exploited for commercial gain

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
  • Activities focused on showing CYP how to claim and secure their own work

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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