With hordes of children with EHC plans now learning at home, parents are faced with a raft of new challenges. How to juggle the roles of teacher, parent and clinical expert all at once, while maintaining sanity – their own as well as the child’s. It all sounded so easy at the Annual Review meeting, setting targets and goals, one-to-one time and colourful star charts but home is another kettle of fish. Parents have become teacher, therapist, TA and dinner lady, sometimes all at the same time. Your SEN child senses they are off-script, off-timetable and they are off to watch TV before you know it.
Structure is key: Parents of an SEN child who feel they are overwhelmed by mounting pressures should remind themselves of what the experts say: consistent structure is vital for children with special needs. Without school, daily routines are disrupted, friends and familiar staff are absent, and planning seems futile. All this uncertainty breeds anxiety and interferes with learning. Remember children need to be happy to learn and parents need to be happy to support them. So don’t stress, make a timetable, use visual aids (pictures, photos, symbols) and stick it on the fridge. Both adults and children need to look forward to breaks!
Use the experts: As much as you can, include familiar teachers and therapists in your child’s day. Although the government has granted temporary flexibility to the EHC plan process, to help frontline workers focus on the most vulnerable children, for SENCos it’s business as usual either at school with a small cohort of the most needy children or working remotely.
Do be proactive and contact the school to ask for support. In the wider field, SEND officers are answering enquiries from home and still commissioning EHC plans, and Social Services staff are busy conducting safeguarding meetings by tele-conference. Although some NHS therapists may have been redeployed to more front-line services, others are running a ‘high priority’ service and some education authorities are adapting by using private sector therapists to honour EHC requirements, so if you feel that you need extra support, be proactive and get in touch with your LEA to see what they can offer.
Pace yourself: Trying to work from home, as well as supervise other children, will ratchet up the pressure to hurry the SEN child at a faster pace. Keep calm and resist. Staff at school may be sending stuff to keep children busy but check it is differentiated for the SEN learner and above all, set your child’s own pace. Be open with your child’s school if you feel that they are not empathising with his or her specific needs.
Modify your home curriculum: Setting a realistic target for your child is key. Aim for short bursts of productive work, rather than completing an hour of a subject at a stretch, and intersperse it with movement breaks or a game in the garden. Children with sensory processing issues will need sensory activities. For children with attention difficulties, like ADHD, aim to finish a shorter activity, rather than stagger through a long one, and don’t forget the praise and a reward for achievement.
To avoid meltdowns, suggest to the school that your SEN child drops one or more non-core subjects during lockdown; there will be time to catch up later. Above all, keep it fun for both of you.
Get help: SEN support is available at the click of a mouse: there are lots of online resources going free during the lockdown period to help with home-learning, everything from revision guides for A levels to baking videos for rice-crispy cakes. We’ve listed a few good websites below.
Experts will tell you that special needs children benefit from special time with parents, and lockdown certainly is that. Relax and try to enjoy it!
- Home learning - https://www.twinkl.co.uk/resources/covid19-school-closures
- Mental Health and Wellbeing - https://www.mentallyhealthyschools.org.uk/media/2008/coronavirus-mental-health-and-wellbeing-toolkit-3.pdf
- SEN entitlement during school closure - https://www.ipsea.org.uk/news/ipsea-update-on-covid-19-school-closures-and-sen-provision
- Visual Timetable - https://www.rcslt.org/-/media/docs/Covid/social-distancing-timetable.pdf
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