The topic of mental health and children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) has been discussed quite frequently in psychological literature. However, we are still seeing a gap in the help that’s being provided.
At Arthur Ellis: Mental Health Support, we are delivering hundreds of support sessions every month and are seeing a number of children in our one to one therapeutic mentoring service to help them and the parents build positive coping strategies towards what they are experiencing.
This could range from outbursts of anger, through to being sick when thinking about social events or refusing school completely.
Currently 36% of the children and young people in our Therapeutic Mentoring service are SEND. From this population, we have seen that 19% of the SEND children and young people who have sought help are doing so on a self-funded basis. This has highlighted an area of concern for us as to why this support isn’t being accessed at the point of diagnosis. It is our interpretation that given the increase in recent referrals of children and young people with SEND, and the challenge going online brings, there are difficulties in accessing mental health support for SEND’s.
From our experience, we have seen that mental health can be affected by special educational needs both for the child and for the families and it is for this reason we want to continue the conversation and hopefully move towards support being more accessible.
The Mental Health Foundation statistics state that children who struggle with learning difficulties are 4.5x more likely to suffer from poor mental health than children without learning difficulties. These kinds of statistics highlight such a need for support in this area, so why is it difficult to access? From our own statistics, we have seen a large proportion of families of SEND children having to seek mental health support themselves rather than being included within the support.
Even though there are links between the two, mental health and SEND are considered to be quite different. If you take Autism, which is a Developmental Disorder, this will be seen as a stand-alone condition. The mental health aspects like the anxieties or impact on mood even though it is more likely to be experienced, they are considered to be mental health challenges and often supported by other teams or departments.
When we have knowledge suggesting that there is an increased risk of poor mental health in SEND children, it is a cause for concern that a gap in the provision of mental health needs is still not being addressed.
Looking into this further, we have seen that recent research in psychological literature has referred to the relationship between SEND and mental health as both complex and often misunderstood (Rose, Howley, Fergusson & Lament., 2021). One of the interesting points made in this research was the difficulties that occur in recognising needs. It is suggested by the researchers that this difficulty is due to atypical behaviour being attributed to a diagnosed learning difficulty rather than being recognised as the symptoms of poor mental health. Changes in behaviour are often one of the earliest ways to recognise that a child’s mental health is suffering, and this is clearly difficult to do for children whose behaviour may be seen as atypical.
Although it may be difficult, it is still not impossible.
This issue is then increased as many resources are not equipped to provide support. In this research it was also discussed that some teachers and other professionals feel ill equipped to address the mental health difficulties experienced by children they’re supporting. There are many organisations who do a wonderful job of support for SEND children and our knowledge is always growing of how we can be doing this better. However, there has been research to recognise parents’ view on the support of their children suggesting that the knowledge of how to support SEND children seems to be symptom specific (Van Herwegen, Ashworth & Palikara., 2018). This suggests that we all still have a lot to learn in how to best support SEND children and make sure their needs are being met from a holistic point of view.
At Arthur Ellis, we want to put an emphasis on encouraging the conversation that mental health needs to be further supported in SEND children. Our aim is to get the conversation going and hopefully bridge the gap between mental health and SEND support. If you yourself, a family member or someone you know is struggling then please reach out.
You can access our one to one therapeutic mentoring service here: https://www.arthurellismhs.com/self-referral-form/
It may be challenging to support your child at the moment and forced to live in an online world can make this even more challenging, so we can work with you to discuss different techniques you may be able to use at home and in day to day life to improve the coping strategies for the mental health challenges.
You’re not alone, we are here to help.
Rose, R., Howley, M., Fergusson, A. and Jament, J. (2009) “Mental health and special educational needs: exploring a complex relationship”, British Journal of Special Education, 36(1), pp. 3-8. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/577701/MENTAL_HEALTH_AND_SEN_Mental_health_and_special_educational_needs_exploring_a_complex_relationship
Mental health statistics: learning disabilities. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-learning-disabilities#:~:text=One%20study%20fo
Van Herwegen, J., Ashworth, M. and Palikara, O. (2018) Parental views on special educational needs provision: Cross-syndrome comparisons in Williams Syndrome, Down Syndrome, and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Research in Developmental Disabilties. 80, pp 102-111. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2018.06.014