Requests have come through for thinking about how best to support children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). This isn’t my specialist area, so today I’m joined by Dr Rebecca Sweet, who is a clinical psychologist who specialises in working with children. We spoke about the impact of lockdown, and different ways of looking after the wellbeing of both children and parents.
Hi Rebecca, thanks for joining me. So firstly, do you have any tips or suggestions for how mums and carers can keep children who have special education needs entertained at home?
After a year of lockdown you will have already developed some strategies to keep your children entertained at home, and will know when this feels easier or more difficult (for example if it’s raining, when your child is tired, over school holidays). You might see lots of examples on social media of families doing fun educational projects together, and might be worrying that your child is having too much screen-time. Please try not to stress – you are parenting a child with special educational needs during a pandemic, this in itself requires huge amounts of parenting energy and skill.
Remember that people only post their “highlights” on social media, not the grumpy, tired miserable times. There are lots of resources online sharing practical ideas for playing with your children, but the bottom line is to be realistic about what’s possible with the time and energy you have! If your child is able to engage with friends or family through screens, then definitely make use of help from others, for example can Grandma read them stories over FaceTime, or would they enjoy simultaneous play with a cousin joining remotely? Here is a link for some ideas:
Thanks for that, that’s really useful advice. I think sometimes it can be difficult to remind ourselves that we are in a pandemic, rather than ‘usual times’. My next question is about staying connected to others, something that most people have seen change over the last year. In regards to children, particularly children with additional needs, is there anything that we should be thinking about more in terms of their social needs?
One of the most difficult parts of the pandemic has been the reduced social connection, from hugs with loved ones through to the small, everyday interactions with others in our community that usually make up the fabric of life. This is likely to be something you have struggled with as a parent, and may well be concerned about for your child. The good news is that if your child is school-aged then whatever form their schooling has taken (whether in person, virtual or a mixture of the two) this will have been a source of ongoing social connections and interactions for them.
For ideas of staying connected to loved ones, use technology if you can, and remember that children can rarely engage with structured telephone calls or video calls in the same way adults do, so take the pressure off them having formal conversations, and just allow them to enjoy the presence of a loved one in their own way. This may mean a grandparent watching through an iPad while their grand-child plays, occasionally commenting, or your child showing their aunty their favourite toys on a video-call or telling a joke on a voice-note that you share later.
If your child is particularly missing a friend, they may like to draw pictures, write notes or take photos that can be shared with the friend, to fill them in on their daily activities. For younger children, sending each other photos of a favourite teddy doing different things can be a playful way of staying connected. For non-verbal children who rely more on touch or signing for their communication it may have felt particularly difficult to stay connected to others during this time – remember that a smaller number of quality interactions is more important than a high quantity of contacts.
Brilliant – thanks for that. I’m now thinking about the many anxieties that we all might have about how lockdown and children being out of school might have affected them, in particular their educational needs. Do you think that this is something that will affect children?
Given the disruptions to schooling that all children have faced throughout the past year, many parents will be worried that their child has fallen behind. If your child has additional needs, this may be a particular concern of yours, rest assured that schools are expecting children to be at varying levels academically upon their return, and are making plans to support children with this.
If you are concerned, speak to their teacher about this, and if your child has an Individual Education Plan, or an EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan), ask about when this can be reviewed. If you want additional support with advocating for your child’s needs to be met, contact your local SENDIASS – Special Educational Needs, Disability, Information, Advice and Support service for advice and support.
It’s also worth mentioning that Parent Partnership services vary depending on what borough you live in, so might be worth googling or checking with your local council to find out your nearest one. So that relates to their educational needs, but what about the wellbeing needs of children? How might we be able to tell whether we should be concerned, and what should we do?
You may also be wondering if your child has additional worries or emotional needs related to the upheaval of the pandemic, and the transition of restrictions easing. For children, these may become apparent through changes in behaviour, sleep, eating or seeming a little more clingy than usual. Use play and stories to open up conversations about things that your child might be worried about.
It can be difficult to know what changes are natural parts of development, and when to seek help. It might be helpful to get other perspectives, such as from your child’s school or anyone else who sees them regularly such as family or a support worker. However, if you are concerned speak to your GP about your worries and ask them to consider making a referral for your child to have further assessment and support.
Thanks Rebecca. Finally, the wellbeing of children is connected to the wellbeing of their parents and carers – what about them?
I can’t stress enough that being a parent of a child with additional needs is challenging at the best of times, let alone during a global crisis. You may have become used to putting others first and ignoring your own needs, and you might feel like you don’t have much choice about this.
As restrictions start to ease, and some kind of new normal returns, you may start to notice some of your own thoughts and emotions more. This is natural, and could be because you have spent much of the last year in “survival mode” just focusing on getting through. Please know that your needs matter, and you are allowed to give these time and attention, and seek help for yourself.
Think about the things that help you to feel more human, full of joy and connected to your values and try to find ways to do some of these if possible – this could be a small think like going for a walk with a friend or leaving the washing up for a night in order to have a soak in the bath. Your child will benefit indirectly if you are feeling well supported yourself, so give yourself permission to seek whatever support you need, be it from health professionals (e.g. GP) or from family and neighbours.