Coronavirus: Parents of SEN children struggle as schools close

By Dani Thomas
BBC Wales Live

image captionJonah, 13, uses a wheelchair, has no speech and is fed via a tube

Parents of children with special educational needs (SEN) say they "don't know how they will cope" after schools were closed due to coronavirus.

Schools and nurseries in Wales closed to all children last week, apart from those whose parents are key workers.

Hayley Norris, whose 13-year-old son Jonah uses a wheelchair, has no speech and is fed via a tube, fears the impact it will have on her family.

The Welsh Government said families should contact councils for support.

Ms Norris, from Cardiff, said Jonah was "very challenging" and that his time in school allowed her family to "have a little bit of a break".

"He really doesn't like getting dressed, he doesn't like having nappies changed," she told BBC Wales.

"He fights you at every opportunity - scratching and he was kicking me this morning because he really didn't want me to do it.

"It's just that, continuously, every day. It's just constant."

The special school Jonah attends, Ty Gwyn, was closed along with all other schools on Friday.

Ms Norris added: "That's going to have a huge impact on us.

"That's a time when we can all just have a little bit of a break, and it's time for us to have time with our other two children as well.

"It will literally just be me and my husband."

Cardiff council said it was working hard on a new approach to meet the health and social care needs of its most vulnerable learners in a rapidly changing situation.

Rhian Keenan's eight-year-old son Trystan has complex learning needs including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), speech and language needs and sensory processing challenges.

"I just don't know how we're going to cope. I just feel really alone," said Ms Keenan, from Penyrheol, near Gorseinon in Swansea.

image captionHayley Norris says school closures would have a "huge" impact on her family

Ms Keenan works in a supermarket and is therefore considered a "key worker" by the government.

This entitles her to send Trystan to school so she can go to work, but she said the change to his routine and not having his usual staff to care for him means he would not be able to cope.

"His anxiety will rocket and meltdowns will inevitably happen," Ms Keenan said.

"With special needs, life is very different. He struggles to sleep anyway, so all of this worry with the virus and now being off school indefinitely - I don't know how that's going to affect him long term."

The Welsh Government said it had closed schools to minimise the spread of coronavirus, and that provision should be made for vulnerable children "where there is no safe alternative".

"We would advise parents to contact their local authority for information about what additional support is provided in their area if they feel that further help is needed," a spokeswoman said.

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