Supporting children as they head back to school

With the rolling out of Covid-19 vaccines, improving infection rates and the reopening of the society many parents are desperate for their children to return to school after months of distance-learning. However some children are going to meet the end of the best educational experience they have had in forever. At the beginning of lockdown children and parents struggled to adapt to distance learning and now they have to cope with re-entry to schools.

While in-person learning will come with its academic advantages it will also bring with it uncertainty, stress, social anxiety and a demand of balancing academics with extracurricular activities. According to research children with special educational needs might find it even more difficult to go back to the ‘normal’. Children with speech, language and communication difficulties might have struggled during lockdown, but a lot of children have also flourished during this time, freed from the school environments.

How did the lockdown affect speech-language therapy?

With the lockdown all support for speech, language and communication was halted and a lot of speech and language therapists were redeployed to work in other parts of the health services. This had a very significant impact on speech and language therapists’ ability to support those with special needs because either their services were stopped or they were redeployed to other roles. In a study conducted by RCSLT nearly all respondents reported changes in the receipt of speech and language therapy:

  • The majority (n=333) (81%) received less speech and language therapy.
  • Only 43 respondents (10%) reported they received the same amount of speech and language therapy before and during lockdown.
  • 9 respondents (2%) received more.
  • 28 respondents (7%) were unable to confirm.

In addition to that with schools closed the majority of students stayed at home. The therapists that remained at work found new ways to deliver services, with more support being delivered remotely. SLTs across the United Kingdom have adapted and continue to adapt the delivery of their services in response to lockdown measures so they can meet the needs of those in need of help. These adaptations mostly included shifting towards the use of tele-health.

What do people think about the future post-Covid?

One would have imagined a full-time return to face-to-face therapy, post-Covid lockdowns however according to a report by RCSLT when respondents were asked if they had received speech and language therapy face to face since the end of lockdown (June 2020):

● 58 (76%) stated they had not received any face-to-face speech and language therapy since June 2020.

● while only 18 (24%) had received face-to-face speech and language therapy.

At the expense of returning to school and increased focus on recovering losses , children’s speech and language therapy progress might be affected or halted.  In RCSLT’s report 79% of respondents were concerned about not being able to access speech and language therapy in the post-Covid future, 15% were not concerned and 6% were uncertain:

The participants were particularly concerned that a lack of access to speech and language therapy would lead to regression.

How to prevent regression while transitioning post-Covid:

Even if you are not going to be receiving full-time therapy services along with in-person school, you may still be interested in knowing how you can support your children at home. Here are some other ideas you can try from the comfort of your homes:

  • Receive therapy remotely

    Tele-therapy has been successfully used to provide speech-language therapy to children all across the world especially during the lockdown. Not only is tele-therapy effective in achieving functional outcomes but it is also time and cost saving in comparison to other modalities. Opting for tele-therapy might also help your child get the support they need from the comfort of their homes and keep them from losing on any speech-language related progress that they have made so far.

  • Parent-led therapy:

    With the increasing amount of games, activities and other resources available online, you can easily work on the speech-language skills of your children at home. You can also ask your SLT to provide you with some worksheets and activities that you can work through at your own pace at home with your child.  Start working on skills that the child has recently mastered (for reinforcement). If the child seems ready for a new skill, move to games, worksheets and activities for these newer skills. You can find vocabulary building and speech sound activities in Valeo’s resources.

  • Make learning interesting with videos:

    If you are working with a child on a particular skill, a video with instructions or demonstrations of how to do it can also help.  You can find parenting strategies and resources online that might be useful for families. In addition to Valeo’s very own youtube channel you can follow peachie speechie for practicing speech sounds, Walkie talkie for speech therapy related activities or teach me to talk to help toddlers and young preschoolers with language delays.

  • Stay updated with weekly newsletter/blog subscriptions:

    Get access to weekly subscriptions of newsletters, blogs or resources for children and parents of special needs children. With these weekly subscriptions you can get access to fun activities that will boost your child's speech, language and  communication skills. You can follow these blogs to keep updated: speechroomnews, mommy speech therapy, a perfect blend and play on words.

Ways to help your child with the re-entry anxiety:

Some children might have gotten cozy with the more low-key lifestyle. Now the shift back to a more active schedule can be a bit overwhelming for these children. The following things can help your child with the anxiety brought about by the increased work-load of managing speech therapy with full-time school.

1. Model calmness: Be aware of how you model your own anxiety when speaking to your child about returning to school. Only speak to your child about the post-Covid routine when you yourself feel calm.

2. Listen: Listen to your child’s concerns and acknowledge their feelings and let them know that it's valid for them to feel anxious about the return to school.
In addition to that it is okay to not have the answers to all of their questions. You can tell your child that you are not certain about the post-Covid future: It’s possible that they’d have to return to school, then to lockdown, and maybe back or that this could go on for a while.

3. Focus on strategies: Ask your children how they adapted to the lockdown routine and what helped them with it? or what might help them now adapt to going back to school? This might bring up things that can be done immediately to solve the concerns raised.

4. Have practice runs for the return-routine: Before returning to school, try and prepare children by getting them back into a routine. They could do some practice runs of the new routine beforehand.

5. Make new routines fun where possible: In school, be clear about the new routines so that children have some sense of control. Help to make routines fun, for example singing songs or playing games such as ‘I spy’ or ‘Simon says’ on their way to and from school.

References:
Clegg, Dr. Judy, O’Flynn, P., & Just, P. (2021). Speech and language therapy during and beyond COVID-19: Building back better with people who have communication and swallowing needs(Rep.). RCSLT. Retrieved from https://www.rcslt.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Building-back-better-March2021.pdf.

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