25th June 2020 • Emma Cooper
Happy June, all. I truly do mean happy because, although we are living in such odd times, I feel and hope that June marks a month where we gently tiptoe into life after lockdown and explore what might be our new normal.
As our Prime Minister announces ‘bubble’ rules for single parents and those that live alone on the very day I write this, I can’t help but feel this was a wonderful advancement for single parent carers; a demographic that I fit into, as well as thousands of other households out there.
Change for the better
As an autistic adult and a parent to autistic daughters, I know how change can feel disadvantageous. I share with you and your young people the trepidation that uncertainty causes.
Change, however, can also mean advantageous change and, although I’m sure each and every single one of us wishes there was never a pandemic for the world during our children’s lifetimes, I do feel there will be progress for carers as a direct result.
During lockdown, most of the self-employed paid work I do has halted. Most of my time has been spent home educating, assistance dog training and volunteering my help with food deliveries and other causes. However, the lion’s share of my time has been spent supporting autistic teens with mental health issues. Time spent on zoom with parents, social workers and mental health professionals trying to hold back the true second wave; an already overwhelmed mental health service and an educational system fit to burst.
I’m not going to lie; it’s been a horrid experience. In the last two weeks alone, a young person has been in social services care, another signed into residential care due to multiple attempts to take their own life and sadly several messages informing me of the deaths of young women. There is no glimmer of light here; no silver linings but there ARE always learnings.
Looking to the future
What if our new normal could harness these learnings? There are many things that we know needed urgent change before but maybe in this time of fast paced unprecedented changes, it is seen as feasible?
Many teens have struggled for years with education. Some are in mental health care due to their anxiety and depression and school issues. Lockdown has shown us that we can all learn from a distance and when schools go back we mustn’t let progress roll back too.
Online PE and educational services distributed free from BBC bitesize – why can’t these stay? For those who need to be home educated or flexibly schooled, can we not leave them behind when school opens? Can we finally learn that school isn’t always synonymous with education?
We have also seen exam changes, with coursework being given in some cases as an acceptable substitute for exams. For those who have a phobia of exams and tests which causes severe anxiety, can’t coursework be an option long-term? You only need 4-5 GCSEs for college in the UK; our children’s mental health is overwhelmed by 11 GCSES so can’t CORE GCSEs only be expected to be taken at 15 /16 with additional subjects being optional?
Looking even more into the crystal ball of hope, what if the educational system changes completely?
What if 14/15 year olds took core GCSEs and then went into subject based college at 15 -17 for their chosen fields only?
Wouldn’t that ease the strain on schools, teachers and the NHS mental health budgets?
More importantly – wouldn’t it save children’s lives?
For carers, be it official or unofficially recognised, who have pleaded with their boss in the past to have a more flexible shift pattern, I hope that when everyone returns to the office, your requests for Zoom or Skype attendance are met with understanding, familiarity and solidarity now. I hope that the avoidable stress of disability specific childcare, travel costs and anxiety around what is happening at home is never the same as it was before.
I hope that, if anything, our new normal is an age of flexibility and kindness.