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Coronavirus Local Lockdown Life Voices

People with special educational needs suffer mental health problems during Covid

The disruption of routine presented by the coronavirus has exacerbated the anxiety level of people with special educational needs (SEN), Invicta News has learned.

SEN students, especially those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), have found the chaos during the pandemic hard to comprehend, which then results in them having troubles being back in school or keeping up with their learning.

Cindy Lewis, the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) of Abacus Primary School in Wickford, Essex, said the biggest issue for the SEN students during the last lockdown was the lack of routine, struggling to access home learning on a regular basis and lack of social contact.

“For those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and social skill issues, the lockdown removed all opportunity for them to work on their targets about social communication or social skills,” Ms Lewis added.

The lack of familiarity in lockdown left pupils with ASD struggling hugely at home, and the school had to invite some of them back full time for the children to regain their routines, she said.

“The September return was traumatic for some, especially those who had not visited school since March and who had not engaged well with home learning,” said Ms Lewis.

Cheryl Mayhew, 61, a mother of two SEN children, said his son suffered a lot of mental health issues during lockdown.

William Mayhew, 24, cannot write or read due to ASD, and is currently in a special needs college learning life skills and socialisation.

“When you’re on the autistic spectrum, it is very hard to accept change in your life in any way,” said the mother.

She added that the most difficult part for children with ASD was they had to re-learn things and the skills they had.

“What we found was, as lockdown went on and on, he became less able to rationalise, he was talking about things that happened years before rather than in the current situation.

“Very, very simple things he couldn’t do, even to the point of he has got to re-learn how the day goes. He has a very set routine: he gets up, goes into the bathroom and then he gets ready for the bus and the school bus comes to the door and picks him up,” said Mrs Mayhew.

For William, understanding the whole situation of the pandemic was very difficult, despite his parents’ best efforts trying to explain to him, he still found it hard to comprehend.

When the sight of people wearing masks first appeared during lockdown, it was a scary scene for William, as in his mind only villains and thugs cover their faces.

“He wouldn’t even go for a walk with us because he saw people with masks. But now he’s got used to that because he wears mask, when he is in college he’s got a mask, when on the bus he’s got a face shield,” said Mrs Mayhew.

When he could attend college again in September, he found out everything he had known was changed.

“When he went back he didn’t understand why things are not the same, we have to keep telling him it won’t be long, but if he wanted to go back to his groups, there is bubbles, he might be in a different tutor group, [his old groups] don’t happen anymore.

“He isn’t with his friends so going forward you see, even now, things are as they were, he doesn’t see the same people, because they don’t travel on the same transport,”

Sandra Morl, a learning support assistant (LSA) at Abacus Primary School, said it was difficult to tend to the worries of SEN students.

“Sometimes you wouldn’t always know what the impact is on them, only through behaviours sometimes, some children with SEN it is not necessarily behavioral, so what sometimes happens is the children go they keep it all inside.

“When they’re in school they appear they’re ok, but when they get home that’s when they get sort of a meltdown, because they’re unable to process it and they don’t quite understand, so it usually has a great family impact at home,” said the LSA.

The 59-year-old added that assisting these pupils during the pandemic had not been easy because they no longer worked with the children they were employed to work with.

“It is difficult but it must be even more difficult for the children, you have to work with SEN children, who don’t understand them (the changes) and you can tell by the way they look, the way they move their hands, eyes, the whole body language, you can work out what is worrying them.

“But if you haven’t worked with a child for very long, it is very difficult, and likewise if that child hasn’t worked with you, then it must be even more difficult,” she said.


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