Returning To School

Many children will be eager to get back to school after Encephalitis following a period of time off school during their acute illness, and as they recover. For some children who have recovered with few or no ongoing difficulties, returning to school may pose few challenges. However, depending on the severity of a child’s illness and the amount of time they have been away from education, returning to school after Encephalitis can often feel like a daunting step in a child’s journey of recovery. This is not only true for the child themselves, but also often their parents and school.

Whilst it may feel overwhelming, there are a number of steps that can be taken to prepare for a child’s transition back to school/education, and to ensure they receive any additional support they require in the short and long term.

Below are some top tips of important things to consider when a child is returning to school:

  • Preparing for the return to school
    • It is important to maintain clear communication between school, home and the medical team in ensuring that the child’s needs are understood and the correct support is in place where needed. Where possible, and appropriate, discharge planning meetings prior to discharge from hospital, including school staff, can be helpful in sharing information and planning the return to education.
    • Speaking to the medical team where the child was treated, and the child’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENDCo) at school will help to identify if there are any specific local pathways for returning to school after an acquired brain injury (ABI) or acute illness.
    • A child may require more support at school following their illness. This may be to support with mobility around school, or may be related to cognitive changes that have impacted their learning. The school may be able to provide the appropriate level of support from their existing resources, and if not, they may need to apply for additional funding to do this. Discussion with the SENDCo at the school will help to identify this.
    • It can be helpful to identify a specific keyworker within the school team who can act as the main point of contact for parents and other professionals regarding the child. In a primary school this may be the class teacher, SENDCo, or a Teaching Assistant supporting the child. In a secondary school or college setting this may be their tutor, or again their SENDCo or Teaching Assistant
  • Returning to education
    • Phased return – some children may benefit from considering a phased return to school. For some, the severity of their acute illness and ongoing recovery may require them to have some varied hospital, school, and home education prior to returning fully to their school. When returning to their school they may find it helpful to initially make a more informal visit to socially connect again with friends (e.g. visit at a tutor time or break time). A phased return may be considered in which the child attends for mornings initially before building up to full days or for certain days of the week. Each child’s recovery will be individual to them and should always consider the child’s, parents’, school’s, and medical team’s views.
    • It will be important to acknowledge the emotional impact of the child’s acute hospital admission and recovery, and the time that they may have missed from school. A young person who has missed any of their education and learning may be anxious about returning due to gaps in academic knowledge and/or time away from their peers. Support and understanding of these feelings will be crucial. The role of the keyworker at school may help in giving a space to the child to discuss any concerns and anxieties that they have: regularly meeting and reviewing this.
  • Reviewing return to school and ongoing support
    • Regular reviews of a child’s progress on return to school is important. This may be review meetings held regularly with parents, school staff, and professionals involved in the child’s care; or between parents and school staff if there are no other professionals involved. Review meetings will be particularly important when approaching key transition stages such as moving to the next year group/key stage, changing teachers, and/or changing schools.
    • The sharing of information as a child progresses through their education will be vital in ensuring that new school staff are aware of the child’s medical history and the impact of this on their education and learning.
      • The level of support and funding available to the child should be monitored and reviewed. In some cases where children have ongoing significant and complex needs, an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) may be applied for in order to assess, document and review a young person’s special educational needs within the context of health and social needs. To find out more about EHCPs and how to obtain one, click here.
        • In some areas of the United Kingdom, an EHCP may be required for funding of support provided to a young person and/or access to specialist school placements where appropriate. However, in other areas, the funding process for support may be separate from the EHCP. It is therefore important to get information relevant to the area in which the child lives. Talking to the child’s school and local education authority will help to identify the local processes for support. In addition, independent advice can be sought from local information, advice and support services.

For families of children returning to education after Encephalitis, please be aware of the possible support available from the hospital teams where your child was treated, the community health and social care teams that may be involved following discharge, the school that your child attends, and from charities like the Eden Dora Trust. There is a range of training for school staff that may be available from professionals involved in the child’s care, or accessed from other organisations and charities relevant to Encephalitis and Acquired Brain Injuries. The Eden Dora Trust is involved in offering numerous training programmes for schools, so please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Information written and provided for The Eden Dora Trust by Dr Emily Talbot, Consultant Clinical Psychologist in Paediatric Neuropsychology