Cognition and Learning (C&L)

Advice for professionals working with SEND aged 4 to 7

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


  • Lack of understanding of online rules, social boundaries and confusion over online information and language
  • This may lead to inability to articulate the need to stop and limit the sharing of concerns with trusted adults
  • CYP with limited communication skills will not be able to report abuse

Possible responses

  • New learning needs to be broken down into small steps, and repetition and over learning is required for progress to occur and outcomes to be met
  • Time to talk programme and online rules
  • Language and instruction to be broken down and explained
  • Story sacks/visual aids to reinforce key messages/words
  • Training for staff
  • Activities focused on assertive communication learning phrases such as ‘No’, ‘I don’t like it’, ‘Go away’, ‘Stop’

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


  • CYP person may be unable to distinguish between fact and opinion
  • They may not be able to ask  a trusted adult for help to access the internet safely
  • CYP person may confuse online relationships and misinterpret rules including those relating to consent
  • CYP person will not understand the difference between ‘virtual presence’ and ‘actual presence’. Therefore, they may become distressed when family or friends are not actually near them during online contact

Possible responses

  • Time to talk programme
  • Sessions supported with activity packs and videos on new or reinforced learning about sharing images, online gaming, watching videos, social media and live streaming
  • Internet safety through story aimed at CYP with SEND
  • ELSA programme
  • Play activities focused on showing CYP that people can connect through online platforms but not actually be present. For example, role play, small-world character play

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 be considerably delayed in developing their abilities to read and understand the information shared on the internet
  • CYP may not comprehend how information can be interpreted differently by others online
  • CYP will not realise the permanence of online content and reputational impact of this

Possible responses

  • Support teaching of specific topics with activity packs and videos that focus on specific learning points such as sharing images, online gaming, watching videos, social media and live streaming
  • ELSA support
  • Focused teaching about what is ‘reputation‘ using language and exemplification chosen to meet CYP’s needs and levels of development
  • Activities focusing on ‘Change and Permanence’

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’s limited emotional and/or cognitive development may mean they do not comprehend how their online actions may make others feel
  • CYP may not understand what actions they can take about online bullying
  • CYP’S personal behaviours or needs may result in increased vulnerability to bullying

Possible responses

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 and understanding may result in using search engines to access inappropriate content e.g. voice activated search engines
  • May not be aware that voice activated software is not real e.g. Alexa, google, Siri
  • CYP may be totally trusting of online information and may not understand that some can be false

Possible responses

  • Time to talk programme
  • Effective use of stories to highlight common online issues such as false information
  • Use of puppets to role play online safety scenarios
  • Use of effective visual clues and aids to support the effective use of voice activated software and devices
  • Frequent clear explanations of key vocabulary, including use of visual aids and reminders to promote understanding

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


  • Delay or impaired cognition may lead to misunderstanding of rules to keep self-safe to use technology in and beyond the home
  • CYP may become fixated on particular online content as part of a soothing routine which may lead to disrupted sleep patterns as they become dependent on content which is over-stimulating in the period before bedtime
  • CYP with neurological conditions such as epilepsy may be adversely affected by prolonged time in front of a screen

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’s communication needs and stages of development (not necessarily linked to age)
  • Parent/Carer workshops focusing on the stimulatory effect of devices and the need to reduce use of devices before sleep

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


  • Short term memory difficulties and or poor cognition can make it difficult for CYP to understand the concept of privacy
  • CYP unable to deal with concepts that help keep information secure such as passwords

Possible responses

  • Use strategies such as key trusted adults to maintain passwords
  • Make use of privacy check up tools that are aimed at younger audience
  • Make effective use of visual prompts to reinforce key privacy concept messages – use language or pictures that are chosen carefully to meet CYP’s levels of development

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 compared to age-related peers make it difficult for CYP to understand that everything written/ created/ filmed online belongs to someone. If they have created the material, for example in personal profile informations, it belongs to them
  • CYP may take or claim their peers’ work causing distress to other CYP

Possible responses

  • Focused teaching about ownership using personal information in profiles
  • Use of social stories to exemplify and guide CYP to develop understanding of ownership
  • Use of social interaction games to develop communications skills and promote concept of ownership of information
  • Activities focused on designing bespoke ‘signatures’ for each CYP

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

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