A total of 83 children with different special educational needs (SEN) assessments were contrasted with a control group (N = 40) without special needs on measures that aimed to identify potential areas of strengths as well as weaknesses in these SEN groups. Carefully selected groups of dyslexics, dyspraxics, children with specific language difficulties, moderate learning disabilities, attention deficits and emotional/behavioural disorders were assessed on measures of literacy, phonological and verbal skills, non-verbal ability, problem behaviour scales and cognitive interference. Scores indicated that individual measures were relatively poor at specifically differentiating one SEN group from the controls and that all SEN groups presented evidence of literacy deficits despite potentially different causes for such acquisition difficulties. For most of the six SEN groups targeted, assessments that considered strengths as well as weaknesses provided a profile that specifically differentiated the group from the controls in contrast to the other SEN groups tested. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.