22 September 2020
Louisa Reeves, Head of Impact and Evidence, discusses what a return to school means for children with speech, language and communication needs
How did it get to be Autumn so soon? A new school year is usually a time of excitement and optimism. After the long summer holidays, most children are eager to get back to see their friends and to continue their learning, even if they wouldn’t admit it. Children due to start primary or secondary school are usually nervous, but well prepared by their parents and school staff.
That was in what my children refer to as the ‘before times’. But what about now? None of us are quite sure how this is supposed to go. Those of us who attempted home schooling have realised anew what a skill teaching is, and are only too happy to send our dear ones back to the structure and expertise that schools provide.
There is now much discussion of the ‘recovery curriculum’. This reminds me of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: only when a person’s basic needs (shelter, food and warmth) are met can they move on to fulfilling greater needs such as learning. Many children may have missed out on these basic needs while their families struggled through this time, and will have to focus on these first before they can begin to address ‘catching up’ on lost learning. The focus on these first few months back should be on supporting children just to be ready to learn. In this edition, we will discuss the role schools can play in supporting children’s communication skills now that they’re back in the classroom.
For many children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), the impact of lockdown and being out of school for so long will be more severe. This is compounded by the loss of access to speech and language therapy, especially when many therapists were redeployed to support colleagues across the NHS.
However, the picture hasn’t all been doom and gloom. Many families found that being at home together helped them to communicate more, and many working parents could spend more time with their children. The professionals who support children and young people with SLCN have also been amazingly inventive; teletherapy, previously an unknown area for many therapists and teachers, has now become the norm. I CAN’s special schools Meath and Dawn House have worked tirelessly to adapt their support for their children and young people, and have really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know their pupils’ parents better and to learn more about their children from them.
A recurring theme in the media has been of a ‘lost generation’, but whilst this extraordinary year has been hard felt by many, our children are not ‘lost’, nor is it helpful to let them feel that they are. If schools are well-equipped with the skills and resources they need to support children and young people with SLCN, they can help them to grow and develop resilience along with their learning. Children and young people with SLCN usually find structure helpful, and schools are great at providing this. This, together with more opportunity to interact with their peers, means schools will soon be able to make up for lost time.
So how best to support children and young people in this time of uncertainty? We need to look at building up communication resilience, and in this edition of I CAN Communicate you will find lots of information and ideas about how to support children and young people. Communication resilience is important not only in supporting children to learn but also to develop and maintain their well-being. Parents and professionals don’t always know the answers, but children and young people who have communication resilience can use their language and communication skills to help them to navigate through the difficult times ahead.
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