There has been an unprecedented rise in special needs diagnoses since the pandemic, resulting in more EHC plans being awarded to children with Autism and Severe Learning Difficulties than ever before.

The reasons behind these increases are varied:

  • Better recognition and quicker diagnosis
  • Less stigma attached to special needs resulting in more parental concerns being reported and investigated
  • A difference in approach: A general recognition of genetic, environmental and congenital factors giving an overall understanding of the wide range of differences in abilities between children. Symptoms which are accepted as clearly belonging to the SEND community today, may not have been viewed as problematic to a child’s future development in previous decades. Instead, children may have been simply labelled as ‘slow,’ ‘stupid’ or ‘badly behaved.’ Thankfully, our compassion and understanding of the differences in educational ability has progressed in leaps and bounds since those days.

However, it is concerning that since the lockdowns ended and life returned to normal for most of us, schools are reporting a tide of regression among primary school children in general. Many children are now entering the school system still in nappies and unable to do the basic skills formerly expected of 4 and 5 year olds. If children in mainstream schooling are not meeting the usual milestones, then it is urgent that these developmental delays are assessed and reversed. One such explanation could be described as ‘Under-parenting;’

If parents are too busy or stressed to teach their children the basic skills of independence, for example, how to dress and feed themselves, speak in coherent sentences and use a toilet, then addressing these issues early is vital in order for these children not to attract SEN labels in the future owing to a simple lack of training early on.

On the other hand, ‘Over-parenting’ results in the removal of all challenges from a child’s path which in turn can slow their development and render them overly-sensitive and incapable of navigating the provocations of the real world.

Both styles are detrimental to a child’s development and can result in an unwarranted SEN label if not reversed before the age of 7 years, after which any delays in cognitive, social, language, sensory and motor developments may prove difficult to undo, unless there is a legitimate special needs diagnosis after a detailed healthcare assessment.

1 in 6 children aged 5 to 16 years is likely to have experienced a mental health problem in the last 3 years. The likelihood of young people having mental health problems has increased by 50% since the pandemic and it is likely that this figure is much higher in the wider population.

Our world is rapidly changing and social media and all its associated pressures will have played a large part in this mental decline in all age groups alongside the isolation of lockdowns, the reduction in specialist support and the increased financial and emotional stress which is burdening caregivers.

Experts are calling for an entire overhaul of the support systems of SEND and mainstream childcare before the Lockdown Generation becomes known as the Lost Generation in the future.

We delay these reforms at our peril.

‘Nothing is Impossible. The world itself says ‘I’m possible!’

Audrey Hepburn

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