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For the parents of children with special educational needs (SEN), COVID-19 (Coronavirus) brings a number of new challenges. As well as the sudden change to routines caused by school closures and keeping children at home, we’re all living with a degree of uncertainty about the future.

Many families are trying to balance working from home with maintaining their child’s learning, and keeping them occupied and safe. Some children and young people may find that COVID-19 also triggers or increases anxieties that they were already struggling with, especially with the changes to routines.

We talked to Jo, a parent of a child aged 13 years old with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), who currently attends one of our specialist schools. Jo provided her experiences and the steps she has taken to support her child, and manage everyday life in lockdown. We also asked what advice Jo would give to other families in a similar situation. Here is what Jo said:

Talk to your child about COVID-19

It’s important as a parent to talk to your child about what’s going on in the world and to allow them to ask questions. Keep up-to-date with government advice on how to protect yourself and others, and ensure you communicate the important messages to your child. Explain things simply, but be direct and honest.

Jo explained her family’s approach when they found themselves directly affected by COVID-19: “My son was shocked and thrown by his routine changing. It was really quick so we had no opportunity to plan. I explained it to him but we were affected by it as a family so early on, as a relative passed away within hours of being at hospital. I explained the situation to my son and continued to answer questions as they arose.”

Frequent news and social media updates can also make people feel overwhelmed. Try to stick to the facts and choose reliable information sources, including gov.uk or the NHS website. For Jo, this means avoiding social media: “I have supported my son to understand things, and we avoid social media and anything that really sensationalises or confuses the information.”

Share feelings and worries

Encouraging your child to talk to you or another family member about how they are feeling can help them to manage stress and feel less anxious. Listening to them and acknowledging how they’re feeling is key.

Jo says that her son tells her that he: “feels safe and happy most of the time.” And: “Although his anxiety can be high at times, we work through it and explain it to him.”

Create new routines but be flexible

In uncertain times, structure and a daily routine can help a child feel more secure by making daily life more predictable. Jo found that it may not be realistic all of the time to expect your family to follow a typical school day: “It’s important to have routine, but I think you go through some adjustments and realise you cannot replicate school. At first, we were quite rigid in the fact that it would run the same as school hours with school work, but it just isn’t realistic to stick to this rigidly every day.”

Instead Jo’s family created a new routine for themselves, which includes making the most of the additional time they have together: “The environment here is different so we decided to establish a routine that blended school and home. We found it is also a perfect time for us all to make food together, sit together and laugh together, much more often during the day than just at tea time.”

Take advantage of the support from school

While many schools are closed, most are still providing information, advice and resources to help you support your child through distance learning. No one expects parents to act as teachers, but you will find your school provides lessons and also activities you can try with your child.

Jo’s son is sent school work, much of which he feels comfortable working on alone. This is complimented by activity ideas from his parents: “My son was happy to do the work that was sent and wanted to do a lot of it independently, with us supporting and checking as and when he needed it. Good progress was made and we quickly found that adding on additional learning was helpful to break up the school work, such as doing life skills and practical activities.”

Staff from your child’s school will also be available to support them at this time. Jo’s son and the family continue to receive help with his education and wellbeing: “My son has identified what support he needs from a teacher with regards to some of his subjects, so we have had ongoing support. Having contact with his keyworker has been excellent support and he is accessible too, which has helped with providing some consistency.”

Keep in touch with family and friends

While social distancing means Jo’s son can’t currently see friends and family, Jo supports him to keep in touch: “My son was really unsettled at the fact that he couldn’t see his Grandma and this has continued. We have therefore texted and sent photos and made phone calls, to ensure he has the same level of support and communication that he would normally.”

Children may also be missing friends and Jo encourages interaction to maintain friendships, whether this be through texting, messaging or playing online games.

Prioritise mental health

As well as looking after your child’s wellbeing, it’s important to take care of your own mental health in these difficult times. As Jo said: “Ensuring mental wellbeing is ok is my main priority, as everything else will flow if this is maintained.”

For Jo’s family, it’s about knowing what works for them and avoiding comparison with others, especially on social media: “Find the balance that’s right for you as a family and a household. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, and if you’re on social media, don’t get caught up in the hysteria. Reach out if you have friends that understand your dynamics and keep talking.”

Jo feels parents should not be too critical of themselves as they continue to support their children in extraordinary circumstances: “No one can judge if you are doing too much or too little. You are coping and surviving through really complex times and that is good enough. Keep thinking that you are safe whilst at home and so is your child, so whatever you do, whether it is loads one day or only minimum the next, it is all ok.”

Do you require further support?

If you have any questions about supporting your child with special educational needs at home during COVID-19 or if you would like to find out more about our education and care services, please contact our helpful team today. Call 0118 970 8068 or complete our short enquiry form by clicking here and we will be in touch.