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How to help your SEND child deal with the UK coronavirus lockdown restrictions

PUBLISHED: 11:26 26 March 2020 | UPDATED: 16:51 26 March 2020

Samantha and Alex Bland working from their home in Ipswich. Picture: REBECCA BLAND

Samantha and Alex Bland working from their home in Ipswich. Picture: REBECCA BLAND

Archant

The challenges posed by the coronavirus lockdown is putting many parents into unchartered territory but for those with childen who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) there is increased difficulty.

Now that restrictions are in place limiting outdoor activity and gatherings many people are facing a change in routine, structure and even diet – elements which can be vitally important to those with a neurodisability such as autism.

Rebecca Jasper, founder of Parents and Carers Together (PACT), explained that isolation is a new dilemma for many parents and carers and that many SEND children experience forms of anxiety.

“A lot of children who have anxiety have health related worries,” she said. “This could be as simple as over thinking mild symptoms.

“It is very hard for them to rationalise and anxiety often manifests in physical symptoms too like a stomach ache or headache.”

Rebecca Jasper, co-founder and trustee of PACT Picture: REBECCA JASPERRebecca Jasper, co-founder and trustee of PACT Picture: REBECCA JASPER

Rebecca Bland, from Ipswich, has been struggling with home educating her 12-year-old son Alex who has autism, as he doesn’t fully understand why he has to work at home.

She said: “I’ve had meltdowns, as you can imagine a child with autism likes to be out doors so if he does have a meltdown he normally sits in garden with our dog.

“It’s a really difficult situation to be in as none of us know the outcome and I don’t have all the answers to the questions – I think the main thing is to be positive and try to keep to normal routine as possible.”

Claire Smith is a carer and lives in Stowmarket with her daughter Mollie who is 11 years old and autistic.

Mum Rebecca Bland with her two children Alex and Samantha on a day trip out to London. Picture: REBECCA BLANDMum Rebecca Bland with her two children Alex and Samantha on a day trip out to London. Picture: REBECCA BLAND

She explained: “The panic buying has meant we can’t get certain foods and she has a very specific diet – food is a very sensory thing for autistic children and it’s something many people don’t understand.”

With coronavirus dominating most social media and news spaces, Ms Smith is concerned that her daughter is becoming scared by the information as she becomes very concerned whenever her mother leaves for work and needs constant reassurance.

She added: “Her biggest fear is what if I get sick and can’t look after her? She has had a lot of meltdowns recently but I’m so proud of how she’s doing through all of this.

“These are very uncertain times and my daughter likes certainty – I can’t tell her when this will all end but she wants to know.”

Claire Smith has a daughter with autism and lives in Stowmarket. Picture: CLAIRE SMITHClaire Smith has a daughter with autism and lives in Stowmarket. Picture: CLAIRE SMITH

MORE: A packed list of online resources to help you teach your child from home

What advice is there for SEND parents and carers during this time?

Anne Humphrys, co-chair of the Suffolk Parent Carer Network, has provided families with a free online resource which can be accessed here to help them through these difficult times.

She said: “We are all in a situation none of us expected to face in our lifetime and it is unsettling for everyone.

Anne Humphrys is a member of the Suffolk Parent Carer Network. Picture: ANNE HUMPHRYSAnne Humphrys is a member of the Suffolk Parent Carer Network. Picture: ANNE HUMPHRYS

“Our families who have children with special educational needs and/or disabilities are resilient but many of their children and young people struggle without routine and consistency.

“It is very difficult to explain what is happening which is why we put together a pack to support all families in Suffolk to talk to their families about the situation, with resources to help those with a range of additional needs.

“We can also send out to SPCN parent carer members a range of things to support families including colouring books and sensory bags and would encourage them to get in touch with us if this would be helpful.”

Talking to your SEND child about coronavirus

• Invite a discussion: for younger children simply discuss good hygiene and for older children use open ended questions such as “What have you heard about coronavirus?”. Allow this to be led by them to avoid introducing information which could trigger anxiety.

• Describe what is happening: Use facts at an appropriate level. Use props or videos if necessary.

• Encourage questions and discussion: Talk about how it make them feel and think. For older children discuss media coverage.

• Offer reassurance and containment: Explain that cases are still very rare and measures are in place to make people safe.

• Reduce speculation (if age appropriate): Explain what speculation is and why it is unhelpful. Give examples of speculation and fact and how they are circulated.

• Following up: Remind children and young people they can talk if they are worried. Monitor those at particular risk of developing high anxiety.

MORE: All of the updates on coronavirus in Suffolk

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