The individuals we support and care for often thrive when there is familiarity and predictability in their world. However, due to the recent pandemic, anxiety levels may have begun to increase due to changes in routines. Conversely for some young people the reduction in requests to do activities that they may find more challenging has resulted in a reduction of stress and behavioural issues. Many specialist schools have remained open, albeit with a very reduced staffing and much fewer children using the physical space; as a result, many young people have found this arrangement much easier to cope with. Gradually, over time, more schools will start to get back to offering schooling to more young people. Some young people will be moving back to more difficult or less-preferred schoolwork and spending time around more people in their environment. For some young people who have been at home, the change will also present issues. The following tips are for parents and school staff for when this transition occurs.
Key Tips for Parents
- Use a visual or written timetable
In the weeks, days or hours (dependent on the young person’s ability) before the expected back-to-school date make sure they know what’s happening and when it will happen. It’s really important to get this timescale right for the young person; too much information too soon, may cause more problems. Ask advice from your child’s teacher or speech and language therapist, if they have one; but also use your own judgement based on your knowledge of your child.
- Create a Social Story
Create a simple visual story using images from the internet or drawn by yourself to explain information on why and when they will return to school. Perhaps remind them about their favourite activity that they will be able to do again and people they like who they will see again. Focus on the positives.
- Talk through any worries, if that is possible.
If your child is able to verbally communicate what they are worried about then take time to talk it through. There may be practical issues they are worried about, in which case, if you can resolve them then it makes sense to do that. However, often there are worries that you cannot resolve, that are out of your control. As a parent, in these situations, it can feel stressful that you cannot resolve something for your vulnerable child. However, what you can do is listen reflectively. This means you just listen and do not try to solve the problem, just as you would with a friend who was upset about something. For some young people this will help them to voice their fears and once they have done this, the fears seem a bit smaller.
- Refer to Redstone PBS Advice During the Pandemic
If your child’s agitation increases and they start to present with behaviours that are challenging refer to our video and PDF on our website (online training)
- Agree a Phased Return, if appropriate
For some young people, the uncertainty and lack of clarity of going to school some days and not others is worse than going in full time. However, for others it’s just what they need to gradually get back into the swing of things. See the tips below for schools about how to minimise the intensity of the school day so that there is still a gradual reintroduction to certain tasks. So, discuss with your school to see if a phased return would be beneficial for your child.
Key Tips for School Staff
- Structure and support with visual aids
Most specialist schools will already have this in place for young people. However, other primary and high schools may not be so familiar with this. So, use whole day visual timetable or Now & Next boards at the start and throughout the day.
- Ensure preferred staff are timetabled with the student (if possible)
It is not always possible to do this all day but where a preferred member of staff can be timetabled for significant parts of the day to support the person this may make a big difference to how they settle back into the routine of attending school again.
- Place easy requests first, build up to less-preferred activities
Using this approach to encourage someone to engage in a less-preferred activity is called the principle of Behavioural Momentum. So, when beginning to place demands/requests of the young person, place small easy demands first, slowly building the momentum up towards more typical demands seen across the school day. It may be that initially, the first few days are all high preference easy activities, and then gradually a few more challenging or less-preferred activities are built in, a little at a time. What we really need to avoid is a ‘right the fun’s over its time for maths approach’. Unless of course you like maths!
- Rebuild Rapport
This is linked with the above point really. Ensure that the much-needed rapport is rebuilt with their teachers or 1:1 staff member through positive and enthusiastic language, highly preferred tasks, and reduction in demand. Additionally, build on this rapport by concentrating on providing behaviour specific praise. This means giving specific feedback related to what the child has done well. Ensure staff are keeping an eye out for the behaviours they want to see as opposed to the behaviours they do not want to see.
- Don’t put yourself under pressure
Ensure that you and colleagues do not feel under pressure to ‘catch up’ on lost time and accept the slower pace of the school day. It will get back to normal, in time.
- Support yourself and others
It has been tough, and sadly it is going to continue to be tough for a good while longer. Working with young people with additional needs in an educational setting can be really rewarding but it can also be really stressful at the best of times. Ensure staff’s mental health is supported through regular check-in’s and debriefs to promote a calm and happy environment as much as possible.
- Take time to listen to worries
Set time aside to hear about what your pupils may be concerned about. Even if you cannot fix it, being able to talk it out can sometimes make it smaller. See point 3 on the parent tips above.
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© Redstone PBS 2020
Emma has worked in the field of applied behaviour analysis and positive behaviour support with people with intellectual disability and/those who are autistic for over 20 years. Emma has an MSc in Applied Behaviour Analysis from Bangor University. She became a Board Certified assistant Behaviour Analyst in 2005 and a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst in 2010. Emma has worked with both children and adults in a variety of settings.
Sarah Hobson – Assistant Behaviour Analyst
Sarah has worked in the field of applied behaviour analysis and positive behaviour support with children and young adults with autism for five years. She initially gained her training whilst working at a specialist in London; progressing from a Trainee Tutor to a Senior Tutor before moving onto working on early intervention programmes for specific children in their home settings. Sarah’s main strengths include working on early intensive behavioural interventions, delivering functional communication training interventions (such as PECs, Proloquo2go or Makaton), working with those who engage with behaviours that challenge, and delivering skill building programmes. Sarah has an MSc in Applied Behaviour Analysis at Bangor University and is working towards gaining her BCBA qualification to become a qualified behaviour analyst.
Kate Strutt –Director of Redstone PBS and Clinical Psychologist.
Kate has over 20 years’ experience of working with adults and children with intellectual disabilities and those who are autistic, both within statutory services and the independent sector. Kate is registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. Bsc Psychology, D.Clin Psyc, MSc Applied Behaviour Analysis.