Supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities

Advice for parents and carers on supporting SEND children during coronavirus (COVID-19).

Children with special educational needs and disabilities may face lots of changes in their day to day lives because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. Their routines, regular support and the people they see may all be different now.

As a parent or carer you may feel concerned about how the current situation will affect your child. This could include being worried about how you’ll manage your child’s care, medication or educational needs at home. You may also be worried about juggling your home and work life.

Every child with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is different and will have different support needs in the current situation. We’re here for parents and carers and have advice to help you and your child find ways to cope together.

Should my child still be going to school?

While most schools in the UK are closed, the government is advising that some children with special educational needs and disabilities should still be going to school, and that some specialist SEN schools and especially residential schools stay open. Residential schools will be running their own assessments to decide if they can stay open.

Some children may be at school for less time than normal, attending a different school or working with different staff to who they're used to. Other children may have health conditions that mean it wouldn't be safe for them to attend school at the moment, or they may need to stay at home to help protect other family members.

It's best to check with your child's school about their needs and what the advice is in your area if you're unsure. You can find more information about the schools changes in different nations on NSPCC Learning. 

Worried about a child?

If you're worried about a child, even if you're unsure, contact our helpline to speak to one of our counsellors. Call us on 0808 800 5000, email help@nspcc.org.uk or fill in our online form.

Report abuse

How to help children with special educational needs

As school closures and social distancing bring many changes and new challenges for parents and their children, we’ve got advice and support to help you make things easier at home.

It’s normal for a lack of routine and structure to make children feel anxious and upset, especially if they have special educational needs and disabilities. If your child’s no longer going to school, creating a routine is important and there are ways you can do this together.

It’s important to include your child when thinking about how you structure the day and different activities you can do together. You might want to think about having different routines or activities in different rooms for example, depending on the space you have at home. Perhaps there’s something your child loves doing, like artwork or playing games, that can become part of their daily routine.

It can help to ask your child’s school what they normally use to create routines.

Popular examples include:

    • a ‘Now and Next’ board, using two pictures to show what’s happening now and what the child will be doing next.
    • a visual timetable, using pictures to plan the day. If the whole day is too much to focus on, a timetable could be made for a morning or an afternoon instead.
    • a weekly timetable, to show key things to look forward to on different days.

Pictures are easier for many children to understand than written words. There are resources for making timetables on Twinkl, or you could draw your own. Some children will want to know the time when different activities will start, but other children won’t need this. It can help to ask your child what they’d prefer.

Your child may be missing their friends and adults they see regularly. Try to think about other ways they can see or speak to them. For example, having phone or video calls or talking to friends online via chat or when playing online games. Having regular times each day to speak to family or friends may help.

We have online safety advice for parents to help you keep your child safe if they’re spending more time online during lockdown. You may find our advice on talking to your child about online safety, livestreaming and online video apps and inappropriate content particularly helpful.

Your child might be behaving differently because they’re feeling anxious about things changing. Activities can help to give them the space and time to express their feelings.

Children with special educational needs and disabilities benefit from different types of activities. While some young children may benefit most from short activities for just a few minutes, an older child with autism might find activities they can get really absorbed in for a long time more helpful.

But don’t feel pressured to create lots and lots of new activities - repetition is important too. Practical, fun activities which involve different senses can be the most engaging. If possible, you could create a quiet space for activities in your home, even if it’s just the corner of a room, and fill it with homemade toys and games.

Younger children might enjoy:

    • using homemade playdough (adding herbs introduces smell too)
    • melting chocolate or mixing ingredients
    • making marks in materials (e.g. sand, flour, shaving foam or paint)
    • listening to music
    • making sounds with objects from around the home
    • listening to stories (online, over video calls, or with someone at home)
    • singing nursery rhymes.

Older children might enjoy:

    • zoom chats with group of friends, including zoom apps and games
    • turning a well-known story with parents and siblings into a little play, with each adult or child having a short part to make up the whole story. You can adapt this based on your child’s age or ability
    • gaming or playing online games with siblings. Games should be age-appropriate
    • making a colourful picture using different materials or paints, celebrating NHS and carers
    • making a cake or similar and setting a challenge for a friend
    • deaf young people could create online quizzes via Zoom and Kahoot to play in groups
    • have a ‘blind’ testing competition of food or smells with the family. If your child has a specific diet smells may be more appropriate.

Lots of us feel isolated at the moment, but this can be even more difficult for children with communication needs. Twinkl has lots of resources available, including communication and emotion cards, which can help children express their needs and feelings.

You might choose to use social stories to talk about coronavirus (COVID 19). Your child could then use emotion pictures to identify and express how they’re feeling. 

Families who use Makaton can also find support from the Makaton charity. And there are signed stories you can watch on the Singing Hands website.

Uncertainty can be a particular challenge for some children with special educational needs and disabilities, and they’re likely to find this especially difficult at the moment. We have advice for parents on talking to children about coronavirus to help you support a child struggling with anxiety.

Childline also has support and advice for children and young people on managing anxiety and on coronavirus.

Support if you're struggling

Being a parent or carer of a child with special educational needs and disabilities can be challenging and isolating at the best of times. But at the moment, it might be even more difficult. Online communities such as the National Autistic Society’s online community can be a great way to connect with other parents and carers while staying at home.

You might also want to think about how you could create some regular breaks for everyone at home. Perhaps there’s a quiet room where you can relax, or a time of day when one person can sit inside while others are outside or in the garden.

Worrying about your child’s care is natural. If things are tough, don’t struggle alone. If you’d like to talk to someone for advice, there are lots of charities who specialise in different areas of special educational needs, many of which have their own helplines. These include the Council for Disabled Children and the National Network of Parent Carer Forums. Carers UK also offers guidance around care and coronavirus.

You can also phone the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk for support.

Support for young carers

Young people who are carers may be concerned about becoming unwell or the person they care for being unwell during the outbreak. Their usual support networks could have changed and they may need more support. Putting contingency plans in place can help reduce stress. The Carers Trust and Childline have advice to help.

Resources for parents and carers

If your child’s struggling to understand what’s happening, here are some helpful resources you can use to support them:

Booklets: