MOVE Programme

While COVID-19 has impacted all children, disabled young people have been particularly negatively affected by the year of multiple lockdowns and COVID restrictions. As we look towards an easing of rules and a gradual return to school for all children from March 2021, we need to discuss the implications of the last year on young people with complex needs and how we can support them to recover going forwards. 93% of the MOVE Member schools we surveyed said lockdowns had adversely affected their students’ mobility. Here we’re highlighting the stories of Ethan, Ibrahim and Sophie*, children whose progress was stalled by COVID, but who are getting back on track with the MOVE Programme.

*This name is a pseudonym

Losing skills over lockdown

Before lockdown, Ethan could walk, stand and transfer independently, and was working on decreasing the bend in his knees, which gives him a better range of movement to access the wider community. Sophie was standing for short periods, which meant that she could transfer out of her wheelchair without needing a hoist and could also stand for personal care. Ibrahim could walk independently in class and with one stick for longer transitions, as seen in the video below, which enabled him to access more of the curriculum independently.

All of these skills enabled Ethan, Ibrahim and Sophie to live their lives as independently as possible. However, over the past 12 months, all three children have seen regression in their physical skills. Their teachers have told us how and why their mobility has been affected:

Due to COVID and government lockdowns Ethan’s ability to complete regular physical activity and movement was greatly limited…his mobility has regressed because this. Ethan now finds it difficult to stand and transfer without the support of an adult or equipment, and he can only walk about 15 steps before having to sit and rest and becoming breathless” – Manual Handling Officer, Wyvern Academy, Dorset

On his return to school in March, Ibrahim’s splints did not fit properly, and he has been off his feet as he cannot weight bear safely without them. After months of not weight bearing, he can’t walk independently anymore” – Senior Teacher, Cherry Garden School, London

Sophie’s family have had no physio input in either of the lockdowns, which has contributed to the deterioration of her gross motor skills…Over the Christmas lockdown her family were unable to practice any weight bearing skills with her as the equipment was in school and it was not suitable to practice a running bike outside in inclement weather, so her last opportunity to stand was in December. When Sophie returned to school in March, she was not taking any weight through her legs when standing for personal care” – Learning Support Assistant, Drummond School, Inverness

Adjusting to lack of social interaction

But the impact of COVID-19 on Ethan, Ibrahim and Sophie has been more than just physical. According the Disabled Children’s Partnership’s most recent research, 60% of disabled children are severely socially isolated. Because the health implications of contracting COVID-19 are more severe for disabled young people than non-disabled children, many have been out of school shielding for long periods, which has exacerbated the isolation caused by national lockdowns. This, combined with lack of access to education and therapy input, has hugely impacted their emotional health and wellbeing.

Ethan, Ibrahim and Sophie are all very sociable and benefit from regular interaction with their friends and teachers at school, which they haven’t been able to do for the majority of the last 12 months. For Sophie, not being able to see her friends was distressing: “she missed her peers and was frequently upset once the class group session ended, that was difficult for her mother” – Manual Handling Officer, Wyvern Academy, Dorset

For Ibrahim and Ethan, the back and forth between staying at home and returning to school due to multiple lockdowns was a difficult adjustment:

[When he returned to school] Ibrahim was clearly overwhelmed by the attention…it is clear it will take time to settle him back into the social aspect of being at school” – Senior Teacher, Cherry Garden School, London

Each time the government has imposed a lockdown, Ethan has needed to readjust…This has been incredibly disruptive and has impacted his emotional well-being as well as his physical development and health” – Learning Support Assistant, Drummond School, Inverness

Recover with MOVE

Despite these setbacks, Ethan, Ibrahim and Sophie are in a good position to recover because their schools use the MOVE Programme. This is because the programme empowers the whole team to be involved with movement opportunities, meaning that families can continue practicing skills at home and education staff can keep teaching skills even with reduced therapy input.

MOVE is an integral part of our pupils’ physical development. The programme has a positive influence and will help us to support Ethan’s recovery to enjoy the level of independence that he previously experienced before COVID 19 and lockdown”  – Manual Handling Officer, Wyvern Academy, Dorset

It’s possible that Ibrahim will take a while to fully return to where he was physically and mentally, however he has already made fantastic progress since returning to school and starting his MOVE programme again…Now more than ever, MOVE is an essential part of our curriculum” – Senior Teacher, Cherry Garden School, London

Once Sophie is back in school full time and we can give her lots of opportunities throughout her day to stand, she will regain this skill…If we weren’t using MOVE, I do not believe we would achieve the same outcomes” – Learning Support Assistant, Drummond School, Inverness

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the MOVE Programme has supported disabled young people to maintain and progress their mobility skills, and going forwards it will be vital to support those children who have lost skills to get back on track. We recommend the MOVE Programme as a cost-effective, holistic method that should be part of the recovery plan for disabled young people.