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

 Each of these resources have 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.
  • 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.

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).