The Ultimate Parents Guide to Back to School After Lockdown (GCSE level)

The importance of SEN support

For children with special educational needs (SEN), the past few months may have been especially difficult. Children with autism, for example, may struggle to fully understand why their routine has been so drastically changed.

The negative effects on children's education due to the pandemic are potentially multiplied if your child has a condition that can make learning a little more challenging

While the advice given in both the "Academic" and "Mental Health" sections are applicable to children with SEN, there are some other strategies you can use to support your child.

We'll cover each of the most common Special Educational Needs in this section.


Autism

Children with autism may have been hit particularly hard by the virus. This is partly due to the change in routine and it can pose a major problem for them.

It may help to provide a new routine as soon as you can. Establishing a new schedule will help to ease your child's anxiety. This can be as detailed as your child prefers, whether it's a general guide or a minute-by-minute breakdown.

Of course, you also need to bear in mind that when your child goes back to school in September they'll be changing their routine yet again.

For that reason, we recommend setting a routine with some similarities to a normal school-day. For example, waking up at the same time, having a set lunch-time, etc. Then September won't come as too much of a shock.

The other way you can help your child settle down and focus on catching up with their schoolwork is to provide the best possible work environment.

That means setting up a space that's used only for work, nothing else. Make it comfortable, free of any distractions, and then have your child lay out their books and stationary as they would at the start of a school-day. This will be their makeshift desk.

By establishing a routine and providing a space to work, you're essentially creating the closest thing possible to a school environment. This helps maintain a feeling of normality throughout the Summer and going into September, providing the best possible academic help.

We recommend visiting the National Autistic Society’s website for more information on supporting your child as they head back to school.


ADHD

During lockdown, the effects of ADHD may well have been exacerbated. Without the structure of school, children with ADHD may find it more difficult to settle and focus. To avoid the potential of falling behind, you could put certain strategies in place to support them.

There are a couple of things you might do to help your child if ADHD is impacting their work.

Firstly, use a technique called "Chunking". This is where you engage your child for a realistic period of time. In other words, rather than forcing your child to work a full day, break it up into separate chunks of work followed by a reward.

Most children struggle to focus for hours at a time. Children with ADHD may struggle even more. By breaking work into chunks, it becomes more manageable for them, and they're more likely to focus on the task.

The second aspect concerns the gaps between those chunks of work. If your child is easily bored, they may lose motivation when it comes to their schoolwork. A good way to avoid this is to encourage them to do activities they enjoy in-between the chunks of schoolwork.

This way, they're alternating from things they enjoy to things they don't. They'll be motivated to work hard and focus on school tasks if they know that there's an activity of their choice waiting for them once they've finished.

Amanda Gummer, from Dr Gummer’s Good Play Guide, suggests that you should also have your child prioritise the topics that interest them most. This way they get into the swing of things and can build up to the more “boring” topics.

It's also worth asking their teachers for any advice they have. Ultimately, your child's teachers will have learnt how to best engage them, and so their advice will be extremely valuable.

For more advice and support, the ADHD Foundation is worth a visit.


Dyslexia and Dyscalculia

Both dyslexia and dyscalculia can make learning more challenging. But that doesn’t mean home learning should pose a problem.

In fact, if you and your child embrace certain aspects of home learning, your child may emerge more confident when schools return.

For many children with dyslexia and dyscalculia, school lessons can move at a frightening pace and they end up left behind. At home, however, they can move at a more comfortable pace for them. It is also a brilliant opportunity to explore other supportive mechanisms which could consolidate their learning.

As a parent, you should encourage and reassure them that it’s okay to take their time. If they get frustrated, then they should take a break. Forcing learning won't help anyone.

Home learning also brings another advantage - your child won't be embarrassed about asking questions they feel might be stupid.

Encourage your child to ask you for help if they're struggling. If you don't know the answer, then refer them to their teacher or online tutor. They'll be happy to lend a hand.

If you support your child by allowing them to learn at their own pace, and to ask when they don't understand, they'll return to school full of confidence.

Both the British Dyslexia Association and the Dyscalculia Information Centre have a lot of useful resources to help support your child as they head back to school.

Recommended Resources and Further Reading

National Autistic Society

ADHD Foundation

British Dyslexia Association

Dyscalculia Information Centre

Dr Gummer's Good Play Guide

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