Supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities

Advice for parents and carers on supporting SEND children at home and at school.

Children with special educational needs and disabilities may face lots of challenges at home and at school, which can be impacted more due to COVID. Their routines, regular support and the people they see may all be different at the moment, and as a parent or carer you may feel concerned about how it will affect your child in the short term and long term. 

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

At school

Schools are encouraging pupils to take regular COVID tests throughout the school week, on site and at home. You can find out more about testing on the website. You can also view the latest guidance for students who test positive for COVID too. 

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. 

If you're worried about your child falling behind in their education, or if they're struggling to catch-up after the disruption to schools, we have guidance on hiring a personal tutor for your child

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 or fill in our online form.

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How to help children with special educational needs

COVID has brought a lot of uncertainty, as well as many changes and new challenges for parents and their children, we’ve got advice and support to help you make things easier at home in these still uncertain times.

It’s normal for a change of routine and structure to make children feel anxious and upset, especially if they have special educational needs and disabilities. If your child has to self-isolate or learn remotely, 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. 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 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 might be behaving differently because they’re feeling anxious about things changing or the uncertainty still related to COVID. 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:

    • online 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.

Anxieties around the uncertainties of the future 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 COVID. 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.

Change 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 COVID 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 COVID.

Support if you're struggling

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 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, here are some helpful resources you can use to support them: