It was such a strange feeling to be looking forward to half term as a teacher rather than a parent. The holiday we should have been on was cancelled weeks ago and clearly, we had no alternative plans.

I don’t know about you but my barometer of ‘grateful’ has genuinely changed for the better, and hopefully for good. We enjoyed more walks and cycle rides without rushing back to complete school work and some lovely lazy mornings. The other small mercy was not having to set the 4am alarm for the cheapest EasyJet flight from Luton to Alicante, and not having to wear the ‘Special Assistance’ lanyard that is clearly meant for William and that I have no intention of telling him about until he is travelling alone and wants to jump the check in queue. Most of half term was actually really enjoyable, beautiful weather accompanied by a loosening of lockdown restrictions meant I could walk with a friend, which was a real mental wellbeing tonic. During the Friday of half term we had a Zoom meeting with the head of department at William’s school to discuss the new protocol for the children going back. The plans were as I expected, which was reassuring, and she was very compassionate in explaining that the school expected both the children and parents to be apprehensive equal measure. Having been a parent and a teacher in a mainstream school and now a parent in a more specialist school there is definitely more concern for the wellbeing of the whole school community where the children have a greater need. The teachers are very aware of the challenges for some parents of home learning and the complex nature of some children’s diagnoses means every small change must be carefully planned and managed for their return to school. Most typically developing children will experience some level of anxiety about returning to school but for some SEN children, particularly those with ASD, OCD and PDA, the anxiety will prevent them from going back at all. I have supported several parents this week whose children have not left the perimeter of their home for 10 weeks and their anxiety is currently unmanageable. It is heart breaking to hear their stories and has left me feeling very lucky that William seems only to have all the concerns and questions I would expect of any eleven-year-old at this time. Clearly our first day back, which is Thursday, is yet to arrive and things may or may not be different then.

I can’t help but feel that some of the images I have seen on television of teachers marking crosses in yellow tape on one half of a desk and classrooms with completely clear surfaces is making the settings feel a little eerie and medicalised. I know how important the protocols are and that how they are followed will protect life, but school is normally such a spontaneous and vibrant place, where children explore learning and socialising, I feel that the juxtaposition of the new ‘normal’ is leaving my usual hopeful personality feeling a bit deflated. So how do we paint a positive picture for our children? Well, I personally have started with all the things I know that matter to William that will still exist; seeing and being with friends, subjects that interest him that his teacher will do a much better job of teaching than me, playtime, a shorter day and a part-time trial phase of re-entry where he only goes to school for half of the week. It’s not looking too bad. I haven’t dwelled on the minor details of the teacher wearing PPE and sitting alone in the lunch hall for now although for some Autistic children these will be at the top of their list of changes for the good!

Whilst some may disagree, I believe that wherever your child is emotionally, mentally and physically now is not the time to ask them to ‘Man Up’. The scale and context of their concerns are something none of us has ever experienced before. We can’t make any promises and we are severely lacking in evidence to make claims that going back to school will be great! Personally, I will be listening to the feelings and choosing love and kindness over long positive speeches, sticking to the facts and not filling in every blank if I can’t. It is possible to feel resilient whilst acknowledging difficult emotions. Basically, give your gorgeous children a hug and refrain from saying ‘everything will be ok’ for the time being.

What I’m not looking forward to is the strong likelihood of me sobbing all the way home after dropping off, racked with guilt that William is our household out of lockdown guinea pig!!

Much love to all those children and parents returning to school this week and to those who have chosen not to at this time.