Anxious children, anxious adults and anxious me

Louise Davis is a Psychology student on placement with NCB’s Research and Policy team. In this blog she reflects on our report into the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in Northern Ireland.

How these topsy turvy times have affected those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and those who care for them.

Stay inside! Come out, it’s safe! Well not that safe, go back inside! It certainly has been a disorientating time for everyone. At least I didn’t have to explain it all to a child who likes routine and gets distressed whenever it is interrupted, Neither did I have to find ways to help them can focus when their teacher is just on the screen and when maintaining attention is something that is already hard. The parents and young people who participated in this research had to do exactly that, learning to adapt, repeatedly, to different ways of living, without most of the support that they are entitled to and can usually access.

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A photo of a school pupil and a quote about helping children with SEND recover from the pandemic.

Abandoned. This was the defining emotion felt by parents, due to almost all of the support falling into a black hole the minute lockdown was announced and not really returning. In fact, this feeling intensified as the pandemic continued as, despite at least in my memory, the first lockdown was embodied by community spirit. One parent even stated, “…I felt abandoned. Completely abandoned. And I still do. I actually feel worse now than I felt then [during the first lockdown]. You are talking despair at this stage”. This feeling of abandonment was accompanied by the fear of what would happen to their children if they themselves got seriously ill.

‘It’s going to be a weird three weeks’, ah the naivety of this statement, said by a friend on that late March evening, when in reality the temporary disruption would be anything but. Even by the third lockdown when the children with SEND were back at school, most still did not have their teaching assistants present to help them learn and catch up because schools were so short-staffed and overworked.

However, being back at school was a God-send to some parents. The relief is expressed in this quote, ‘So, if she’s in school everything’s fine. It makes such a difference. Family life, everything is much better when Maria’s at school.” For others though, It was rather anxiety-inducing to others, who find going to school stressful as well as for parents who wondered how can you stop the spread of disease among children kept in close quarters for several hours a day or were concerned about their children falling further behind.

For those young people who were older, the anxiety about job prospects and their dwindling social skills was a major concern. Social anxiety is likely to be high as many try to venture outside of their immediate social circles. However, for those who needed clubs before the pandemic to develop vital soft conversational skills and  to attain work experience, the long-term impact of this pandemic has yet to be seen.

Although this past year has been isolating for all of us, normal life felt isolating anyway for these individuals with SEND and their families. As we move into the ‘new normal’ I think we need to give specific attention to those more greatly affected, such as children and young people with SEND, their carers and those who work with them. Be good to each other as we all adapt back, hopefully.

You can read more about our research into the impact of COVID-19 on children with SEND and access the full report here: https://www.ncb.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/news-opinion/insights-impact-covid-19-children-and-young-people-send-northern