Over the past 18 months Covid-19 has turned family life upside down. Families have had to change and adapt and develop new routines. Children with additional needs and their families have faced lots of changes in their daily lives going back and forth between schooling at home with parents taking on the role of teacher with less social contact and exposure to the community and back to school again. All these changes may have affected your child positively or negatively. For example, a child who found the demands of school difficult may have enjoyed being at home, whereas a child who needs structure and routine may have found changes difficult to adapt to.
As a parent of a child with additional needs, you may have many questions and concerns around returning to school this September. After the summer it is normal for change and uncertainty to cause anxiety in both parents and children. Children with additional needs may find it difficult to control and talk about their emotions. You may see changes in their behaviour e.g. more meltdowns, withdrawn behaviour, sleep and routine issues, more aches and pains, increase in habits/mannerisms e.g. lining things up.
If you are concerned that your child may be very anxious when they return to school:
- It is important to talk to your child’s teacher.
- Acknowledge your child’s feelings to help them feel understood. You can use picture cards to help talk about feelings with your child.
- Use relaxation exercises e.g. exercise, taking deep breaths, blowing bubbles, colouring etc.
- Try some relaxation and mindfulness apps, e.g. Calm app, Breathing Bubbles app, Dreamy Kid app.
- Spend time with your child doing something fun.
- Keep things calm and predictable at home, show the routine with a visual schedule.
Some children might have developed specific fears related to Covid-19, such as a fear of masks, fear of germs and touching surfaces. Other children may be very focussed on the rules around Covid-19 like social distancing. This might result in them behaving as though they were a mini policeman and correcting others. There are different ways to help your child with these behaviours such social stories. Check out www.mwcds.ie or www.asiam.ie for more information on social stories and other supports to assist your child return to school.
Top Tips to support your children’s return to school if they have additional needs
- Familiarise your child with the building e.g. drive by, videos, photos.
- Familiarise your child with their school uniform, lunch box and school bag.
- Reintroduce and practice school routines e.g. morning, bedtime, snack/lunch time.
- Get your child used to going to bed earlier and waking up earlier.
- Use a calendar to count down the days.
- Chat about school especially the things your child likes about school.
- Contact your child’s school to make a plan for their return. What’s going to happen and why?
- Let the school know about your child’s experience over the summer, both the positives and the negatives. One Page Profiles are a helpful way to do this.
This article was contributed by clinicians working with West Limerick Children’s Service Early Intervention Team. West Limerick Children’s Service is a member of Parenting Limerick, a network of parenting and family support organisations.