Wednesday, June 24, 2020

THE Department of Education and Skills announced the extension of their July Education Programme to a full Summer Provision Programme, based in schools or at home, depending on the school. The programme provides an extended school year for schoolchildren with complex needs, above and beyond a child their age. Children must have a diagnosis of autism or an intellectual or profound disability to participate in the summer programme.

The programme is available for applications on, however the onus is still on the parent to source a tutor for their child if the school is not running a programme.

Leslie Hughes from Laochas, the Warrior Soul Project, a Waterford-based mental health charity for under 18s, has developed a series of anxiety coping skills for children, both those who may avail of the summer provision, and those who may not have need of the summer provision but are struggling with their uncertain place during this situation.

“Going back to school, I think it’s important that schools look out for children who may have already been at risk. Parents will already have been on high alert since March, but that awareness needs to continue over the summer months for children struggling with sleeping, excessively worried, sad, withdrawn or experiencing a sudden change in behaviour.”

Leslie echoed the concerns of many, looking to models from other countries where small groups and social pods have been implemented. These small groups prohibit the sharing of toys, promote physical distancing and prohibit close comfort in the case of cuts or falls.

“We need to seriously look at how that would affect their emotional development. It is the exact opposite of what we have been teaching them all their lives. Imagine the feeling of nobody wanting to be close to you if you don’t fully understand the situation.”

She has called on the Department of Education, along with the Government to provide enough recourse and funding to help the transition from homeschool to classroom-based learning, taking into consideration that anxiety will be high in children.

An important transition which was not made possible this year was the oftentimes challenging transition from national school to post-primary school. Graduation could not be held in a sentimental way for sixth class students, or sixth year students. This abrupt end has the potential to uproot stability and increase anxiety in students.

Ahead of the return to school, and when parents notice negative or worrying behavioural changes in children, Leslie has a number of suggestions to increase coping skills. These include: lie down and put a teddy on your stomach, breath in and out, watching the teddy rise up and down; try to name animals alphabetically, imagine worry as a colour, similarly imagine calm as a colour-breath in a calm colour and out a worry colour.

These are ideal strategies for younger children but are effective for all ages. Laochas the Warrior Soul Project are available for workshops in schools, and Creative Art Therapy is also available, with one to one sessions funded by Laochas, credited by the Irish Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.


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