September is a time of new beginnings. It is often viewed as a fresh start; it marks the beginning of the academic year and can bring with it change and new challenges. This could include a new school, new teachers, new friendships, new routines and new expectations.
As well as offering new opportunities, change can also bring uncertainty. Returning to school with Long Covid might be difficult, especially if the child is still feeling ill or if they missed school the previous academic year, have gaps in their learning, have missed social events or endings in their previous setting or are ‘out of the routine’ of being at school. However, with some planning and communication, it is possible to make the most of the opportunities it can bring.
Long Covid Kids Charity shares some guidance below for nurses and other parents of children and young people with Long Covid on how to prepare for September.
Some things that can help:
Readiness for the return to school
The first thing to consider is whether the child is well enough to return to school after the summer break. The Cautious Tortoise flow chart aims to gently guide parents and caregivers through the early steps of their child’s recovery while supporting them to preserve energy to aid ongoing recovery. While it is natural to want to ‘get back to normal’ after being unwell, ‘pushing through’ is ill-advised, and may prolong recovery time in some children. It may not be the right time to return to school and medical advice should be sought.
One of the most common symptoms experienced by children and young people with Long Covid is fatigue or ‘energy limitation’. The Pacing Penguins poster contains helpful advice on how pacing can support recovery.
Kirsty Stanley (LCK Health Team Lead and Independent Occupational Therapist at Occupation4Life Ltd) recommends putting aside the last week (or two) of the holidays to begin to replicate the upcoming education schedule, starting to implement a more regular sleep/wake routine and ensuring that children can engage in focused activity for the length of time they would be expected to do at school. If you wanted to do any catch up work with your child now would be a good time to do it. This will help you gauge what they will be able to manage at school. Make sure to take a look at the information on phased returns to school in our support guide. Do not be surprised if your child needs to take a slight step back from what they were doing at the end of term, taking a slightly slower time phasing attendance back-up is likely to lead to sustained attendance in the longer term.
Attending school will not be feasible for all children and if, despite a good paced rest over the summer holidays your child is still not up to attending, if you haven’t already started the Education Health and Care Plan process you might want to do so. You can ask the school to start this or you can contact your local authority yourself.
Share Information About Long Covid and the Child’s Needs
Does the new school, setting or teacher have all the information they need about the child, about how their Long Covid will affect them in the classroom and what they can do to ensure they are supporting their access to education, learning and wellbeing? The Long Covid Kids Support Guide is a really useful source of information for children and young people living with Long Covid, their families and the professionals supporting them.
Depending on their age, developmental stage, communication and needs, children and young people could write a letter to their new teacher, draw a picture, record a video or audio message or make them something to introduce themselves: their strengths, interests, needs and ways to support them.
At the beginning of term, it might be helpful to arrange a meeting with the child’s class teacher, Special Educational Needs Coordinator, Head of Year (or most appropriate person) at school to explicitly go through the child’s needs and the support arrangements they will need. Involve any involved professionals as appropriate, for example school nurses, physios and occupational therapists or educational psychologists. Discuss how you will continue to communicate with each other and share any relevant information, for example how will you know if there are any improvements or if there are any difficulties in carrying out the plan you have agreed?
Clarity of Expectations
Having a meeting early in the term will ensure that there are clear expectations which are shared by all parties. Be clear about who is taking responsibility for the practical arrangements and consider scenarios such as what will happen if the child is unable to attend, can work be sent home and who will check-in on the child if they are unable to attend school?
Involve the Child
Ask the child for their views about their illness, returning to school and what they think would support them. The more involved they are, the more control, autonomy, confidence and empowerment they will feel and the more likely it will be that support strategies or inventions will be successful. In the blog ‘Exhausting & Painful’. Children & Young People Describe Their Long Covid children and young people describe how they experience Long Covid.
Encourage a Flexible Approach
The ultimate aim for the child might be for them to be well, be in school full time, be fully engaged with their learning and making progress. However, if they are living with Long Covid, this is likely to be a longer term aim. A flexible approach which takes into account a child’s individual needs, recognises that health and wellbeing may need to be prioritised first and is taken step by step is needed. Long Covid can be remitting and relapsing in nature and any approach to support will need to recognise that there might be good days and bad days. Easing back into school gradually, pacing and having a reduced timetable may support the child to attend school and manage their Long Covid symptoms.
Decide on a Review Process
As part of the initial planning, it will be important to set goals and then plan a review to consider whether the arrangements are working and whether any changes to the plan are needed. It will also be important to think about how you will recognise and celebrate successes and progress.
Be Mindful of the Impact of Long Covid on Siblings and Family
Many families will have experienced not being believed, having the physical symptoms dismissed as psychological or minimised or faced unrealistic expectations about returning to school. Long Covid is likely to have a substantial impact upon families, they may have had to adapt to a different type of family life and their identities as individuals or as families may have changed as a result of not being able to take part in their usual activities. Education and health care staff can have crucial roles in supporting families.
Be mindful about the impact of change
Change can be challenging for many parents and children at the best of times. Add in living through a global pandemic, living with Long Covid, navigating complex health and education systems and it can feel overwhelming at times. Long Covid Kids have padlets full of supportive resources including; Young Minds which provides ten ways for parents to help children cope with change: top-ten-tips-for-parents.pdf (youngminds.org.uk).
Above all, please know that you are not alone, you will find support and information at Long Covid Kids | Charity | Post Covid Syndrome.
Written by Dr Sue Peters (@suepeters21) – LCK Educational Psychologist and Education Team Lead