Lockdown has been difficult for all children and families. However, if your child also has special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND), it can often be even more challenging. My wife talks about having SEND children as being a bit like having any child, just everything is x10. I know what she means, the rewarding moments can be rarer, but ten times better and the challenges can be ten times bigger.
Of course, the spectrum of SEND needs is vast. Just in my own household I have one child with SEND who is pretty much self-sufficient, another who can do a lot for themselves with some guidance and my middle son who needs 24-hour care. In this blog I hope to give some simple suggestions on supporting children with SEND. Some bits might help some parents, and others may help others. I will not pretend all of it will be helpful for everyone.
Create and stick to a routine
Whatever the ability and resilience of your children, routine will help. Children benefit from predictability and knowing what is coming. Therefore, creating a routine for each working day and a slightly different one for weekends is likely to really help your child feel safe and secure. Once established, it is important you stick to it. Losing that predictability can be unsettling very fast.
Have designated times for doing school work and separate times of leisure and play
As part of any routine, have set times when your child should focus on their school work. It doesn’t have to be 9 until 3 like the school day. In our household, we designate a couple of hours in the morning to focus on English and mathematics. In the afternoons we have some time when we look at other subjects, but this is more laid back that the two hours in the morning. We have set meal times which we stick to.
There are also set times for leisure, when the children can choose what they do for themselves. There are now two points in the day when we go out and get exercise, the first after our two hours of work in the morning, the second after tea. At weekends, everything is much more relaxed. We do have agreed themes at each weekend, such as a ‘Frozen’ evening when we watched Disney and sang together and ‘Star Wars’ when we all dressed up.
Look after everyone’s mental health
As well as making sure we have exercise, it is also important that we think about our mental health. Each member of our family has different ways of looking after themselves in this way. For me it is running. For my wife it is reading books. For my daughter it is contacting her friends. For my youngest son it is playing on the PS4. Although different for each of us, the common thing is the time is often our own and away from the rest of the family. Having space and time to think is crucial.
We also all keep regular contact with family. For us, when things get tough, talking to family really helps. We also have key friends who we phone when we need to talk something through – or just talk to someone different from our household. Remember, you can now meet a friend when you go out. Just remember to keep 2 metres apart. Reaching out, talking and sharing are really good ways to look after your mental health. Never bottle things up. There are a lot of organisations that you can contact too if you need to share or talk something through and friends and family are not the right people.
You know your child better than anyone.
It goes without saying, but you are the expert on your own child. However, if you are supporting them with their learning at home, getting to know a bit about how they learn will be helpful. My youngest son has a diagnosis of autism. Typically, he learns best when things are presented to him visually and when I use as little language as possible. Through Starline, it is possible to get access to lots of very helpful resources to support this. When teaching maths, for example, I have used the short films on the White Rose Mathematics website. I can then present ways for my son to work out mathematical problems and support him as he goes.
After you, your school will probably know your children and the way they learn best. Therefore, if you need to, pick up the phone and contact your child’s school. It is likely they will have lots of tips about how to support your child’s learning.
Getting ready to go back to school
Some of you will have children who have already gone back to school. For others, the wait is continuing. When children do go back to school, things will be very different to how they were before. Preparing all children for this change is going to be important, but particularly so for those who have SEND.
Putting together a social story for children about what to expect and why should really help keep anxiety to a minimum. For example, preparing your children for the fact that many children will not be in school at the same time as them because of social distancing is worth discussing. It would be easy for a child who had not had this discussion to think that lots of children are ill. Similarly, preparing children for the fact they may not be in classes with the teachers they expect will help prepare them for the inevitable variability they will experience.