We all need two metres in this time of social distancing – but some of us sometimes need a little bit more room.
Some families who have children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are finding the current covid-19 measures extremely stressful.
Among other things, they are struggling when out doing essential shopping or taking their daily exercise. Some families have had their social distancing broached by passers-by.
The vast majority of people are aware and accommodating but there have been distressing exceptions and some reports of social distancing being compromised by other people’s behaviour.
It would be helpful if more people could be especially aware and make additional adjustments to support.
There are many reasons why. Here are some of them.
Some children with SEND are classed as “vulnerable”, with underlying health conditions, but still need exercise while parents try to keep them safe.
Parents may not be able to safely leave an older child or young person with SEND at home while they go out for essential shopping
Sometimes parents need an extra pair of hands to keep their child – or children – safe when they’re out. This might mean other brothers or sisters, family member or even a personal assistant need to be in the mix. It can look like we’re mob-handed!
Some young people who have learning disabilities and / or are autistic, with associated conditions, may find it much harder to regulate themselves when they’re out, especially now that their usual key routines are out of the window.
This can make behaviour unpredictable and the children – and their parents – more stressed
Some youngsters need safe open space to burn off their energy so that they can then be more calm when returning to their homes for the rest of the day.
And dogs can also present a challenge. Even as a dog owner, I appreciate that the sudden appearance of a boisterous or even a friendly inquisitive dog off lead can be especially triggering for a youngster who is autistic or with a learning disability.
Parents may not currently have the support that their child usually receives. They may be fire-fighting their day off the back of chronic sleep deprivation and additionally anxious when out with their child or children.
Our streets and kerbs can be hard to navigate with buggies and are even more difficult for older children in a wheelchair.
Queuing and prolonged waiting can be exceptionally difficult and induce abnormally high levels of stress.
Stepping off the pavement and walking in the middle of a quiet road may be a way for all to maintain social distance – but it may give a mixed message to youngsters with learning disabilities as it goes against all the “road safety” teaching that parents and teachers instil. Some families need to avoid “breaking these learned rules” at all costs
Some disabilities are hidden. A youngster may have a learning disability or be autistic but it may not be immediately obvious.
Some young people or adults wear a green lanyard with sunflowers on. This is a way to alert others to hidden disability – although not everyone has them and some may not be able to wear them, perhaps because of sensory issues or extreme self-consciousness.
Brighton and Hove is an inclusive city. We take pride in that. So please be extra aware of the people around you.
If that means adapting your behaviour and being the one to quite literally “go out of your way” to maintain social distancing, then please do so.
We appreciate you helping us to keep our loved ones safe. Let’s be the city that takes care of each and every citizen.
Pippa Hodge is Mum to Leo, who is autistic and has Down Syndrome. She co-ordinates the local T21 Families group and is a Steering Group member of Brighton and Hove Parent Carers’ Council (PaCC).