This year has been mentally tough on the majority of people and children with the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown restrictions has had on the learning of children and with teachers stating that their pupils have fallen behind in their curriculum learning with the learning gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers had widened.
As well as missing out on learning, children have had opportunities for social interactions taken away losing connection with friends, non-immediate family and other trusted adults. Playing with friends, going to birthday parties and sitting with classmates was once a given but now children are living with social distancing requirements. Weekly swimming lessons and similar activities have been put on hold, soft play centres closed, so many of the activity’s children find enjoyment in have been taken away, which subsequently affects their mental health.
Stress in children due to the pandemic
We won’t know the longer term impact of lockdown on children for some time but research based on previous situations that could be considered comparable to this pandemic gives an indication of what is to come. In the case of SARS, quarantined children reported a 4 times higher stress score for PTSD than children who were not quarantined.
A study conducted by the Children’s Commissioner’s Office found that 41% of children felt more stressed about schoolwork and exams since the schools closed for the first lockdown. There were also a number of other increased stress causes, including not seeing friends and family life.
A recent study by The Duke of Edinburgh Award, found that 71% of the young people surveyed were concerned about the impact of the lockdown upon their academic knowledge and skills.
A study carried out by the University of Sheffield showed that the coronavirus outbreak had a negative effect on children’s anxiety levels, with the majority of pupils being worried about their family members. This suggests that when children return to school or college, it is likely they will be worried about the impact this will have on their family members and if they will spread the virus to their families.
A further study carried out by Young Minds looked at the mental health impact upon young people during the lockdown. 32% of children agreed that the lockdown had made their mental health “much worse” and 51% of participants agreed that it had made their mental health “a bit worse”.
26% of the young people stated that they were no longer able to access mental health support during lockdown and the majority of children felt that support without face-to-face contact; for example, over the phone or online, was less effective, especially when their problems were related to family members or their home environment.
A rising demand of mental health support also meant that children have had to wait longer when contacting helplines for support. 66% of children found reading or watching the news was unhelpful for their mental health; children want to feel informed but feel that the need to keep updated with every detail made them feel worse.
Children with special educational needs
Children require additional support to deal with the emotional stress of lockdown and children with special educational needs have generally found lockdown particularly difficult, without the usual levels of support they have in school and from specialist expertise.
SLCN also has an impact on pupils’ social, emotional and mental health: 81 per cent of children with emotional and behavioural disorders have unidentified language difficulties. Young people referred to mental health services are three times more likely to have SLCN than those who have not been referred.
Children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs have largely missed out on getting the speech therapy and other essential support that they need throughout lockdown, leaving them facing an even bigger challenge to catch up with their communication skills post-lockdown.
Many of the usual SLCN support channels had to be cancelled during lockdown, as they are mostly delivered face-to-face. However, ChatterBug has continued to provide support to SLCN children through an innovative online service called Telehealth. Using video calls, expert speech therapists have been able to provide regular sessions to children with SLCN, helping to boost language skills, even while out of school.
This service has bridged a very important gap for children to give them the best possible chance of improving their speech and language skills so that they are not held back in the future throughout their education, careers and social networks. The sessions have received great feedback and students have experienced increased confidence at a time when they are facing mental health challenges.
If you are worried about how lockdown has impacted your child’s speech and language development, speak to ChatterBug and find out more about how Telehealth sessions can help.