The challenges and unexpected benefits for families with children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) during lockdown

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By Natalie Reardon, Alumna and Deputy Head Teacher and SENCo at Mill School, Bury – an independent specialist provision for Pupils aged 7-17 with Autism Spectrum Condition.

Reflections on lockdown

SEND education has been impacted over the last 12 months as a result of the repeated lockdowns in response to the global pandemic. For many students it has been a barrier to their learning which has further induced their anxieties or mental health due to the unknowns and changes to their comfortable routines. That being said, there have also been opportunities for pupils to thrive with smaller class sizes for those who are most vulnerable or the comfort of remote learning for those who often find leaving the house to be the most challenging part of their day.

SEND is where a child requires additional support which is above and beyond that which would occur in a universal classroom. There are 4 broad areas of need; Communication and Interaction, Cognition and Learning, Social, Emotional and Mental Health and Physical and/or Sensory needs.

Due to the range of different needs, even outside of covid changes, children with SEND will be taught in a variety of different ways with many flexible approaches based on the individual’s needs and experiences.

It is often the case that no one child presents with only Special Educational Need, there are other co-morbidities which arise from each condition, for example a child with a diagnosis of ADHD may also present with Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs as a result of the barriers they have faced in education and at home. Equally a child with a diagnosis of ASC (Autistic Spectrum Condition) may also present with Sensory needs or Cognition and Learning difficulties.

These unique combinations of needs and requirements have made the last 12 months particularly challenging for SEND education – children, families and teachers.

For SEND teachers, there are often more issues around engagement with learning; it’s easy for children to turn their cameras off and many find it very uncomfortable seeing themselves onscreen, leading to feelings of overwhelm and anxiety.

Senior Leadership Teams are also having to be creative in terms of safeguarding and protecting those most vulnerable as when you do not see the child every day it’s more challenging to ascertain any subtle changes in their behaviour.

Reflecting on our school, we have been blending different methods of working – a mix of work packs to be sent home, live teaching and recorded lessons. Each of our children learn in different ways and for different subjects so for us it was about having a degree of flexibility to ensure that all learners are learning in their preferred way.

Those children classed as vulnerable throughout the pandemic have not seen too many changes over the year. Most have still been coming into school on a daily basis and often have been getting more precision teachings due to reduced class sizes. Furthermore, there have been more flexibilities and more creativity in the delivery of the curriculum which has meant that, for some children, they have been able to pursue their interests more such as cooking, outdoor activities or woodwork.

Parents and carers of SEND children have been doing an amazing job. I would urge them to be reassured that it is okay if their Maths and English doesn’t get completed because finishing that game of Monopoly you’ve been on for the last three days is absolutely more important! There has been opportunities for us to provide our children with invaluable life skills when it comes to helping around the house, going shopping or managing a household.

With schools now reopened there will be an inevitable period of change, readjustment and new routine which will bring more challenge for families. However, they can be reassured that we will be there to work alongside our families and young people to once again help them to achieve their absolute best.

Latest Research from the Autism Centre for Education and Research

Professor Karen Guldberg and her colleagues from the Autism Centre for Education and Research have been researching the experiences of families with autistic children during the Covid-19 lockdown. The researchers surveyed parents and found that there were mixed feelings regarding home education and how school managed their children’s wellbeing. Some parents reported enjoying spending more time together as a family and watching their child learn, whereas others saw a deterioration in their child’s mental health and received little support. ACER followed this research up by documenting the experiences of ten parents via a series of videos. They also developed a toolkit for teachers on Covid-19 called “The good, the bad and the helpful”.

Find out more about this latest research >

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