Jennifer’s Story: Raising a child with special needs under lockdown

Families around the UK have been adapting to lockdown and changing their daily routines. Many parents with children that have special needs have been worried about the effects on their child’s education and health. Jennifer was one of them. She lives with her husband and her son, Callum, who is on the autism spectrum.

At secondary school, Callum is in a support unit because of his additional needs. Before schools closed, Jennifer and her husband were already very concerned about Callum’s education. He was unable to make the transition from the classroom to studying at home, finding it emotionally challenging. As a consequence, his attendance for remote learning has been low since schools closed in March. Jennifer is concerned that her son’s education will suffer badly and he will have difficulty ever catching up.

“While the time off will mostly go unnoticed by many children, my son was already very much short on his education and this has compounded the problem.”

Callum has enjoyed being at home and playing computer games during lockdown. According to Jennifer, his ability to cope with lockdown has been helped by his added funds on his games console and me not pushing him to leave the home as it was heightening his anxiety too much”.

Jennifer also has a long-term illness for which regular exercise is essential. Finding time for this has been challenging due to her care responsibilities. She has still taken daily walks during lockdown, but neither her son nor puppy – who was brought home before the pandemic – walk long distances. Since she can’t leave her son unattended, she hasn’t been able to do nearly as much exercise, which has increased her pain levels.

Jennifer has experienced difficulty accessing healthcare during the pandemic: I have been in considerable pain, before and during the pandemic… I did contact my local surgery when both my son and myself were seriously ill. She needed to speak to her own doctor to discuss a referral to a specialist, but she wasn’t able to at the time. Her experience of the pandemic has impacted badly on her mental health.

Before Covid-19, Jennifer relied on her parents to shop around. Since, she hasn’t been able to rely on her family and wasn’t able to use public transport, which limited her choices. She was unable to drive to the nearest supermarket and it was too far away to walk to. She has also found queuing difficult because of her condition, yet is not recognised as vulnerable so she isn’t fast-tracked. She feels that difficulties getting provisions put further strain on her physical health, as well as her mental wellbeing.

On a more positive note, Jennifer feels that the Covid-19 crisis has made her community come together, developing more friendly relationships with her neighbours and other members of the local community.

Jennifer’s story reminds us that lockdown measures have been more challenging to those with additional needs. As we come out of lockdown, we need to remember that each family lives in different circumstances, and make sure that as many have a voice in deciding how we move forward as possible.