Practical and emotional support for young people with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND)

As children and young people with special educational needs and disability return to school, they may have additional challenges which you may need to consider.

A working group has identified what these challenges may be and has collated a number of resources which schools and settings may find useful.  Each resource has been developed in partnership with the Specialist Teaching and Learning Service, Kent Educational Psychology Service, KCC and partner agencies within Kent.

Communication and interaction

Children and young people who experience communication and interaction difficulties may need help with the following:

  • Understanding hygiene measures and practices
  • Missing their parents/family after being at home with them for several weeks or missing home
  • Regular staff changes daily or within the day
  • Increasing and/or fluctuating levels of anxiety
  • Being in different classrooms/areas to work/participate in activities
  • Sensory changes in environment – for those who have been at school and those at home
  • Lack of support they are used to – e.g. adult support, break out areas, intervention groups.

There is a range of downloadable resources available that although designed with the return to school following the pandemic in mind, remain very relevant and useful.

Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs (SEMH)

This resource has been developed by professionals working in Kent in May 2020 (namely, Andy Young, Liz Ross and Alison Goodsell- Specialist Teachers and Kelly Underdown, Educational Psychologist). Thanks go to Northamptonshire Educational Psychology Service who shared their resources.

Research has identified five key principles for supporting all children and young people manage the transition back to education. These will be particularly relevant when considering supporting pupils with SEMH needs.

Strategies and support should be implemented in a graduated approach depending on the developmental needs of the child/young person and the response to intervention. For further details around supporting vulnerable pupils (e.g. children in care) and pupils experiencing high levels of anxiety please see the resources developed by the relevant working parties.

Key considerations for supporting children and young people with Social Emotional and Mental Health needs (SEMH) to reintegrate back to educational settings

Create a sense of safety

It is important that all adults, children and young people feel safe in their education setting, especially those with SEMH needs. This can be supported by:

  • Ensuring staff feel emotionally contained themselves before working with vulnerable children and young people so that they can provide containment and reciprocity. See helpful, practical strategies on supporting staff wellbeing see the documents ‘Transition, recovery and learning in the aftermath of a pandemic’ by Biborough Educational Psychology consultation service. This can be accessed via:
  • Acknowledge that parents may be feeling (understandably anxious) about reintegration. Hence, it is important to communicate regularly with all parents (providing clear information e.g. around risk assessments). Consider vulnerable parents who may need more personalised/intensive support.
  • Supporting the transition to existing or new education settings is fundamental, particularly for children and young people with SEMH needs (who may require more intensive support). Ideally this should begin prior to the transition, for example, through meeting virtually with parents/carers to explore the child/young person’s experience of lockdown and helpful resources/strategies (e.g. considering transition objects). It may be helpful to offer children/young people resources to familiarise them with the setting (e.g. virtual tours, pictures of key staff etc). For some, opportunities to re-connect with trusted staff members will be helpful. Paper chain people
  • In order to support children and young people’s emotional wellbeing, the environment should provide nurture and structure. Where possible, continue with routine activities or use visual support (e.g. Social Stories and visual timetables to communicate changes/new routines/expectations).
  • Staff should provide clear information to children and young people about the strategies that they will implement. This should include explicit information about physical safety and how they can access pastoral support in their education setting.
  • It may be helpful to support children and young people’s understanding of what has happened (e.g. to challenge any misinterpretations). Resources such as Social Stories are likely to be helpful). Provide opportunities for asking questions about these (e.g. through check-ins with a trusted adult or opportunities to write down/draw any thoughts or questions they have). In Early Years settings, these opportunities are likely to come about when you are engaging with the children in play or at story time. Be honest with them but keep your language simple and matter of fact (reinforced through visuals).

Support emotional literacy

Young people against a brick wall with cartoon paper plate faces featuring different emotions covering their own facesUpon return to education following a break, children and young people are likely to experience a range of emotions. It is important that these are normalised, and they are given support to help them manage their emotions and return to a state of calm. This can be supported using the following strategies:

  • It is important that staff (particularly those working with pupils with SEMH needs) recognise the link between emotion and behaviour. Staff should provide opportunities to reflect on this with others (e.g. using functional behavioural approaches such as ABC charts or the STAR approach) and ensure there are support systems in place for staff.
  • Staff should model emotional regulation and staying calm through providing opportunities for co-regulation (e.g. whole class/group mindfulness or yoga exercises).
  • Make use of emotion regulation strategies in the classroom or nursery setting for all children/young people (e.g. feelings boards, calm corners, relaxation resources, ‘happiness boxes’). Some children may require more intensive support (e.g. using resources such as the zones of regulation or the Incredible 5-point scale (by Buron and Curtis) and through access to individual or small group emotional literacy intervention. Such intervention should be implemented using an assess-plan-do-review approach, overseen by a qualified teacher/SENCo. If there are wider professionals involved it may be helpful to liaise with them (if deemed appropriate by the SENCo).

Promote a sense of self-efficacy

A group of young people laying on their backs in a circle with all their heads facing towards the centre of the circle, cupping their mouths with their hands and shoutingChildren and young people need to feel they have some control over what is happening to them, and a belief that their actions are likely to lead to generally positive outcomes (Bandura, 1997).  This can be supported in the following ways:

  • Consider ways to seek children/young people’s views about strategies that they would find helpful to support their reintegration (e.g. through circle time activities, suggestion boxes, sessions with a key adult for more vulnerable pupils). In nursery settings liaise with parents regarding how the child has responded to the coronavirus at home and any helpful strategies/resources. Ensure a consistent approach is used in the nursery setting.
  • Build strengths and capacity – explore children/young people’s strengths and aspirations. Provide opportunities to experience success and to use their strengths.
  • Teach children and young people problem solving skills (at a developmentally appropriate level) and help them to recall times when they have coped with change in the past.
  • Support children/young people to develop self-regulation strategies (at a developmentally appropriate level) so that they feel in control of their emotions (see above).

Promote hope

Two hands reaching for each other in front of a rising sunWhilst things may feel difficult, it is important that adults, children and young people feel things will get better and work out in future. Children and young people need to be provided with reassurance and understand that in the long term they will feel positive again.


  • Creating a sense of support for staff in the education setting is key. Work together as a team and agree on how you will answer key questions and concerns.
  • Adults to model optimism and kindness. ‘If kindness is shown; then kindness will be received’. It is important to remember to be kind to yourself too.
  • Support children and young people to notice acts of courage and kindness (e.g. using developmentally appropriate activities such as gratitude diaries or gratitude jars or just a simple ‘you were kind’ sticker for younger pupils).

Staff training

Cartoon flipchart board with "training course" written on itReintegration Resources: here are resources for reintegration based on the 5 key principles above. This is in the form of two PowerPoints, one for Early Years/KS1 and another for Year 6/KS3/KS4. These resources can be used for SEMH first aid training for staff.


Useful websites and resources


The Autism Apprentice (in partnership with Maidstone and Mid-Kent Mind) are currently holding advice clinics via Zoom or telephone call. The emotional wellbeing session will be run with Maidstone and Mid-Kent Mind with a trained counsellor.  Parents/carers can self-refer via email or phone. Please contact: Sarah: 07713 482458 or Donna: 07863 044632.

The NHS/KCC provide a Handbook for Families on autism and ADHD in children and young people.

NELFT NHS Foundation Trust offer information sessions to families awaiting an autism assessment, providing  helpful information about:

Help for parents, carers and families

A family playing football kicking the ball towards the goalKCC Early Help and Preventative Services help families and provide services that can be accessed locally at a time and place that suits families to help them do well, stay safe and resolve problems at the earliest possible opportunity before they become more serious.  Read their leaflet on supporting families.

Family Fund have an active grant scheme for families experiencing hardship. They help families across the UK who are raising a disabled or seriously ill child or young person aged 17 or under. provides advice, support and information on an extensive set of topics from sleep problems to suicidal thoughts.

Kent Together provide information, advice and services available across the County.

Safe Hands Thinking Minds – Dr Karen Treisman is a Highly Specialised Clinical Psychologist focusing on dealing with trauma and stress through new and useful information, including videos.

Young Minds  have information, resources and a helpline for parents: 0808 802 5544. young minds logo

MindEd is a free educational resource on children and young people’s mental health for all adults.

Anna Freud Centre offers a range of resources that include free podcasts to help parents/carers manage child and family mental health issues.

Witherslack Group  offers a series of webinars to support parents/carers of children with special educational needs.

Sharon McLaughlin – SEND Family Engagement Officer (KCC) – is responsible for building trust and confidence between SEND families and the local area.  Her key partners in building engagement are: Kent PACT, IASK and Healthwatch.

Moving back into whatever the new normal is when children and young people begin to return to school will offer a range of challenges for families from practicalities of maintaining social distancing to anxiety about coming out of social isolation.

If Sharon can help in any way by talking to parents/carers and trying to find out what might work to ease these anxieties, please feel free to contact her on: 03000 419493 or 07824 707374.

Mindfulness activities

Waves lapping on the shore with the word Mindfullness written in the sand on the beachHere you will find videos of various mindfulness practices that can be undertaken individually or as a family:

Every Mind Mattersprogressive muscle relaxation

Headspace –  Take a Mindful Walk

Headspace –  A Mini-Meditation on Self-Care

Headspace – A Mini-Meditation for our Wellbeing this week

Headspace – Stressed? Learn to reframe stressful situations with this short meditation.

Activities and guidance

Partnership for Children – have produced a worksheet of activities (including growing seeds) which can help conversations surrounding difficult changes and loss.

Council for Disabled Children – are the umbrella body for the disabled children’s sector bringing together professionals, practitioners and policy makers.

Beams – is a local charity that supports disabled children, young people and their families.  The disabled children and young people who access our services will typically have one or more learning difficulty, complex health needs, physical or sensory impairment, challenging behaviour, Autism or severe ADHD. Telephone: 01322 668501.