The COVID19 pandemic has had a huge impact on how we go about our everyday routines and life. The sudden change included taking necessary measures to self– isolate and social distancing has been challenging for all of us but even more for the children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and their families.

Friday 20th March 2020 – schools in the UK closed to all pupils other than the children of key workers and some vulnerable children including Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.

Switching from school based to remote home-based education in March 2020, how did this affect our children with SENDs?

  • Children with SENDwho could attend school did not, as some parents were afraid that their child may get infected with Covid 19
  • Some children who were on the Autism Spectrum and were highly reliant on carefully established routines and relationships experienced anxiety due to the disruption in routines.
  • Children with complex physical needs, who depended on access to equipment and professional support that was only available at school no longer had the support.

How did this have a knock-on effect on the parents and carers?

Educating a child with SENDs at home is a very different challenge to educating a mainstream child.

  • Parent/cares were not equipped with the prompts used at school such as a visual timetable for the day therefore children did not have the routines and structure that they were used to.
  • Some did not understand what the targets on the IEPs meant.
  • They did not have the resources which are used for Individual Education plans readily available.
  • Additional adult support was not there.
  • Some parents/carers had other children at home and found the range of all the children’s needs challenging.
  • Parents had children at home with no change of face or breaks
  • Some families suffered financially which raised stress levels in the parents and so caused heightened stress for the children.
  • Families were isolated from their extended families, friends and support groups.

24th May 2020 – two months later the UK announced that schools in England should start a phased re-opening for some year groups -1st June for Primary and 15th June for Secondary. This caused a lot of confusion and some practical difficulties for parents with children of different ages. Some parents of SENDs children were very anxious about sending them back to school in a limited way.

Covid19 has had an unimaginable impact on the children and their families, what has really become obvious is the fact that families have not had the time or space to actually articulate their true experiences. Surely if we are going to have to live with Covid19 then conversations should be had so that families and professionals are better prepared for the next lockdown?

Conversation with a mum who has one child who is autistic and two children in mainstream. She talked about how tired and broken she felt, no time to talk to others or have casual chats with other parents and how strict everything has become, ‘no one wants to stop and talk, no one has time’. As a teacher I know how important those few minutes snatching conversations with parents are, and how informative they can be.

 The mum also shared her child’s experiences during lockdown, ‘the therapist used to face time on my phone but my child was not interested, I could not do some of the things she asked because I didn’t know what she was saying to me. Anyway my son use to cut her off!’ She may have been relieved that her son had cut the call off because she did not understand and possibly did not have the expected understanding and skills to help her son.

One Additional Resource Provision (ARP) for autistic children in Ealing tried to support the parents/carers by regular emails or phone calls to the parents whilst their children were remotely learning. The Lead teacher in the ARP said’ Most parents said everything was ok, until I further questioned them on specific aspects that they may have found challenging’. She knows her children, parents and carers really well and therefore was able to drill down in conversation and have some insight on how the parents were managing or not.

The teacher went on to say how impressed she was with the Local authority ‘with the speed in which they offered support, via zoom and landlines and the breadth of the support.’ I wonder whether there are two viewpoints here, one the professional to professional and more importantly the parent and the professional. Are the parents impressed’ and did they feel supported?

I spoke to another parent of an older child who is in year7 of secondary school. His father talked about how he wanted the best for his son. ‘I work with him every weekend, I get angry because he is lazy, and all he wants to do is play on the Nintendo. I was teaching him Pythagoras theorem but he just didn’t get it.’ I asked him if he had looked at his son’s Individual Education Plans because that will help you to understand what your son needs to do next. ‘I don’t understand all that, I know where he should be and what he should be learning’

The father is a well-educated man, again English is his second language. It made me wonder whether he didn’t understand his son’s needs or was it stigma blinding him about the truth. I think a combination of both, use of professional jargon which excludes parents doing so much damage to the relationship and the stigma attached to having a child with SENDs has had a much bigger impact than Covid19.Most schools are backand are managing and adapting to ‘the new way’ with Covid19 but the parents and carer of our SEND children have still not got a good understanding of their child’s needs. It seems like they are not fully included.Why is that? How can professionals really and truly include the parents?

The Covid crisis, especially the lockdown, caused many practical difficulties in the education of our SENDs pupils because of the impossibility of accessing specialist services with trained staff and equipment. However, my conversations with parents showed that Covid had shone a light on underlying difficulties for families but more so immigrant families with SENDs children. These difficulties are present even in ideal circumstances. First, the notion of SENDs provision as offered in this country can be strange for people whose cultural background and educational system are totally different from the UK. Secondly, and more importantly, when a different educational background plus second language meet dense professional jargon, there is little possibility of mutual understanding. Parents do not always feel comfortable saying that they don’t understand, so even when school is normal they are not able to co-operate fully with the work the school is doing. The comment of the Year 7 boy’s father above should be a warning to educationalists not to assume that SENDs provision, especially IEPs and their targets have been understood. We still need to do a lot of work at ground level to bridge these gaps.

Surinder Lall 2020