Children with special educational needs are generally less accepted, more rejected and more likely to be victims of bullying than their typically developing classmates. However, they are sometimes treated more favourably than classmates, more like friends than acquaintances. In this article, based on her contribution to the Gulliford Lecture series, Norah Frederickson of University College London argues that attributional processes which appear central to the establishment of peer acceptance and supportive relationships are more likely to be triggered when a child's difficulties are severe or obvious, classmates are older and explanatory information is given to them. Schools are sometimes reluctant to discuss the special needs of a pupil with their classmates due to concerns about labelling. However, the literature on labelling suggests that such concerns have been exaggerated and that labels can sometimes serve a protective function. Norah Frederickson suggests that respectful, helping relationships between typically developing classmates and pupils with special needs are valued by young people, their parents and teachers, and can build to friendships within a context of positive opportunities for interaction.