Covid-19: Returning to School with Additional Needs

Covid-19: Returning to School with Additional Needs

Sending your child off for their first day at secondary school is a day of mixed emotions. Excitement, nerves, they all come into play.

But sending them off for their first day at secondary school in the middle of a global pandemic is as though someone has taken those emotions and injected them with steroids. Throw in a rare respiratory illness, which has already robbed that child of one lung, and it’s as if those emotions on steroids are powered by several bolts of lightning. One day at a time, I’ve told myself since this all began. And I still remind myself of that mantra daily.

And so it begins…

This week my eleven year old, with one remaining lung, started secondary school in the middle of a global pandemic. And I am still not quite sure how I feel about it. Since his diagnosis several years ago, and then his younger brother’s subsequent diagnosis, of Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia, we’ve had several obstacles to overcome as a family. The initial shock. The endless, often painful, investigations. The many, many hospital appointments all over the country. The double lobectomy. The daily physiotherapy and weekly medications to keep both boys’ lungs in the best of health.

It’s been tough. Incredibly tough and at times I’ve struggled with anxiety over their condition. Given that I also have OCD relating to health anxiety, then you’ll appreciate that a global pandemic is without doubt my worst nightmare, both as a person and a mother.

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We were told to stay indoors

At the start of the pandemic I trusted my instincts and pulled both boys out of school a week before they closed to everyone but key worker and vulnerable children. Back then their consultant told us that the boys needed to stay at home. Stay indoors. I had to wash everything that came through the door and quarantine it for three days, minimum.

We couldn’t get food shopping. We couldn’t walk the dog. We couldn’t go to the pharmacy to get their medication. We didn’t know when it would end. Over and over again we were told that if they caught Covid-19 they would be seriously ill and could potentially die. That they’d only be free when there was a vaccine. In fact, if there was a vaccine.

Such a dark time

It was a dark time, but on some level at least I had control. There were no decisions to be made. There were no risks to take. We did as instructed and stayed at home. We were exposed to nothing. Yes, homeschooling was a challenge, as was trying to fit in some exercise, crucial for the boys’ wellbeing. (On one day I did a 5K run in my garden; I’m still dizzy from going round in circles now.)

But we felt relatively safe in our little bubble, and grateful we had a garden as well as amazing neighbours and friends who walked the dog or fetched prescriptions or dropped wine on the doorstep. We fell into a routine. We got by, one day at a time.

Twelve long weeks at home

After several weeks evidence started coming in from around the world – the boys’ team do A LOT of research – that children weren’t being badly affected by the virus, even those with rare lung conditions. And then finally, after twelve long weeks at home, we were allowed out, with strict instructions to shower when we got home and wash all of our clothes. A pain, but doable.

My youngest, then aged seven, would only walk outside with his arms firmly folded, ‘so that I don’t touch anything, Mummy.’ And they both insisted on wearing masks, which looking back now seems ridiculous. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that after telling your children that the outside world isn’t safe for three months, they’re not keen to go out and experience it for themselves.

In spite of everything, those fears eased over time and the summer holidays have actually been okay. We managed to see friends and family; we even went away for a few days to the beach and left the fear of Covid-19 behind the TV screen that didn’t get switched on. If you had told me a couple of months ago that any of this would’ve been possible I would have laughed in your face.

The return to school

But this week the return to school and Covid-19 couldn’t be ignored anymore. And even though I knew it was coming, even though I wanted it and didn’t want it at the same time, the boys both went back to school. In the middle of a global pandemic.

And you know what? They’re okay. They’re happy. My seven year old came out of his first day back today and as soon as I asked him what it was like he said, ‘it was wonderful.’ They are beaming. They have energy in them I have not seen for months. They dance again at dinnertime to songs on the radio. They’ve come alive.

I’m still cautious

And me? Well, it won’t surprise you to hear I’m a little more cautious than them, even though I don’t show it. Of course I am. But right now, while the weather is relatively mild and classroom windows and doors can be left open, I’m calmer. Right now, when flu is a distant threat on the horizon, I’m okay. Right now, while cases in the area we live in remain low, I’m relaxed.

But I know all of these things will change over the next few months, and that knowledge haunts me in the middle of the night. My children often have temperatures and frequent infections in winter, it’s part of their illness. I dread having to put them through the uncomfortable Covid test and keep them off school every time they’re unwell, even though it’s unlikely to actually be the virus itself.

I try to rationalise… but it’s hard not to worry

I try and rationalise the anxiety, but I can’t help worrying about winter, when it’s cold and dark and we all have to spend more time indoors with windows and doors closed, the air being recycled by our breath alone. I’m anxious the world will become complacent, that masks will left at home, hands won’t be washed as often, people won’t be quite so socially distant.

Luckily, I’m well versed with unhelpful thought patterns, including this kind of ‘what if, worse case scenario’ thinking. And so right now, while the boys smile and walk away from me and into their schools with hundreds of other children, sanitiser and masks in their bags, I’ll let them go, knowing their schools are doing everything they possibly can to keep them safe. Trusting the consultants when they tell me it’s okay.

And I’ll keep going. One day at a time.

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