A mother of a six-year-old boy with autism has opened up about the impact school closures had on him in a plea to the Government to be more considerate towards families of children with special needs in its covid planning.
Diana Norman, whose son has shown more aggressive behaviour, and struggled with his sleep, due to the disruption to his routine, is calling for youngsters with special needs to be allowed in schools alongside the children of key workers, if they have to close again.
She has two children: Leo (6) who was diagnosed with autism in July 2018 at the age of three-and-a-half, and a little girl who is two.
Both Diana and her husband were juggling looking after their children and working from home last week.
“As with most working parents school closures has brought many challenges, but for Leo these are far more complicated as he has Autism and ADHD making things extremely difficult between trying to juggle work, attending to his vast complex needs and having a busy two- year-old daughter,” Diana said.
Pictured: Diana with her husband and two children.
“We are very thankful that we both still have a job when families have either lost their job or have had to give up their job, but it has meant giving Leo an iPad to keep him quiet for however long we need to do our work.
“We have not been able to give him what he needs. We try and work with him and apply more of the learning but it’s not doable. We try to keep all the balls in the air, but something is going to give.”
Leo has very limited understanding of functional language - “it’s hard to tell him what’s going on and for him to understand what is being said,” Diana explained - making online learning a complete impossibility.
At school, a one-to-one key worker is with him at all times and uses specialist techniques to support him and keep him safe.
“His daily routines are different to that of most children,” Diana explained. “He does not spend that much time in the classroom because he finds it quite stressful. He will generally get a sensory room that he can get to and they can adapt to his needs and regulate him better.
“Due to ADHD, staying seated and focused is very difficult, so we can’t set him a task to get on with alone. Over the school closures we’ve been forced to give him an iPad while allowing him to jump off all the furniture, which even led to him breaking his bed, just so we can do our job.”
Pictured: "Over the school closures we’ve been forced to give him an ipad while allowing him to jump off all the furniture, which even led to him breaking his bed, just so we can do our job."
As Diana explained, routine is paramount for autistic children and "any tiny changes create a massive amount of anxiety and distress." In addition to missing out on his time at school, Leo has also lost access to the extra support he requires, including speech and language therapists, education psychologists, holiday clubs and respite care, which not only led him to “lose out” on his learning, but also created further challenges.
“For Leo, sadly a range of negative behaviours have surfaced as a result including aggression and bad sleeping patterns to name just a few,” Diana said.
“Our behavioural expert got in touch, but it was all done from afar. It was helpful but sometimes you have to physically see things, to see if things they have recommended have worked. It’s not ideal.”
With no Government support to address Leo’s needs, Diana and her husband reached out to key workers Leo had a good connection with to help him.
“It seems there’s been little or no consideration to Leo’s and our mental wellbeing caused by the additional stress,” Diana said.
“The biggest losers in all of this are our children - their learning has fallen behind exponentially, but for Leo, who’s years behind, it’s a major setback.
“I challenge the Government to demonstrate how they can possibly believe that they are ‘putting children first’, especially those who are vulnerable and have a range of complex needs."
Pictured: “Online learning is just not possible for Leo."
While schools have now gone back, Diana still has reservations about the situation given the amount of children that will be congregating, potentially leading the virus to spread.
“Online learning is just not possible for Leo - being in school is the only way forward for him, but why can’t the Government make other adjustments? They could say, ‘We will reach out, touch base and ask families what they need.'
“I do question if having them open is the correct way. The first time around, you had the children of essential employees allowed in schools - the same could be done for children with needs or maybe once a week someone could come to a place in the house where they can apply some learning and support of some aspect?
“At least, they should be giving the option to the parents. They should say, ‘We know it is difficult for your child, would you like a spot in a school or someone to come around a couple of mornings?’
“I worry about further closures but hopefully they can learn from their errors.”
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