What can we learn from lockdown about how to best support children with SEND in the early years?
Lockdown has been hard for everyone – but particularly for children with SEND and their families. Research from the Council for Disabled Children highlights how the early years sector is concerned about transitioning children back to settings, as well as transitioning them on to school in light of the long absence from settings. The research also raises concerns about the social and emotional impact of lockdown for children, and an increase in challenging behaviour as children struggle to cope with changes to routine and the loss of usual social interactions.
As children started returning to our Centres in June, we were surprised to find that few of them had difficulty in returning and in a relatively short time they had all resettled well. Once settled, we focused on working with them and their families to understand what the impact of lockdown had been on them and their learning. What we found was that in general, the higher the needs of the child, the more they had fallen behind, which leaves us with concerns about those children who are still self-isolating with their families and are clinically vulnerable. For children with higher needs that experience a longer period of absence, the return to settings is likely to be more challenging.
For those children, we have put in place a plan to focus on the therapy they have missed while in lockdown when they return in September. Our teams have identified activities and strategies for each child who had a Physiotherapy, Speech & Language, and Occupational Therapy Plan to ensure they can access as much professional therapy as possible. In addition, we have started planning activities for each of them that will complement that therapy whilst in the setting. We are also continuing to support children and families remotely through the summer holidays and are doing our best to ensure that they have a sense of belonging, structure and continuity in their lives.
Specifically, the key learning areas that we discovered to have suffered the most during lockdown, among all of our children, are ‘health and self care’, and ‘listening and attention’. In order to help the whole cohort of children, we have planned a range of activities linked to these skills for all the children in our Centres in September so that we can contribute to recovering lost progress in these areas.
Of course, all of this will be done very carefully so that children are not overwhelmed, and we are aware that it is unlikely children will fully catch up to where they would have been had lockdown not happened.
More surprisingly though, we also found that some children had thrived during lockdown. The lack of pressure to conform to daily routine, the familiar surroundings and faces of home, and parents with much more time to support them, has meant that for some children lockdown has been a gift and they have developed fast. Our research showed that for 40% of our families, learning and communication actually improved for their children during lockdown.
As education providers, we must pause and think about what all of this means. It gives us the opportunity to restart our settings with a greater understanding of what helps children thrive, with the recognition that all children are unique. It is so important for all of us to consider which strategies used in lockdown will continue to be important in the future – and certainly for Dingley’s Promise this will mean more remote support that enables us to support and empower families more than ever before.
– Catherine McLeod MBE, CEO of Dingley’s Promise
If you would like to support our recovery programme for children with SEND, please donate to our project on the Good Exchange.
If you donate via The Good Exchange this Friday, the 24th of July, your donation will be trebled by the Greenham Trust as part of Double Matched Funding Day.
Learn more and donate here: https://app.thegoodexchange.com/project/18286