Supporting SEND pupils during School Covid Testing

Even though we are in Lockdown 3 many secondary schools have vulnerable and SEND children in school and WILL be doing the Covid Testing that the government brought in at the beginning of term. Here is as much information as I could find for you.

I am a child who thrives on routine and familiarity, I need you to understand my sensory sensitivities and make my environment safe for me.  I want to learn, and I want to be understood and included.

But the rules are changing again…

A new huge change in my school…

Covid testing is coming, and I am scared…

School leaders are wonderful humans.  They have spent this year manging and coping with the many missives from the government.  They work hard, late into the night and all through the weekends and holidays.  I have nothing but admiration for those who have stepped up and worked so hard for our pupils this year.  But just before the Christmas holidays, the government said here is another task for you.  You will have to give weekly Covid tests to your students, and we will give you the details right at the last minute, as usual.

So in the midst of this turmoil and stress, I have one more thing to ask of you school leaders.  Please will you make arrangements for this testing to be accessible and as trauma free as possible for your SEND pupils.  Some autistic and SEND pupils may have no problem at all.  The covid test may reassure them and the sensation may be no more than a ‘tickle’.  However, it is likely there will be students in your school who will be extremely anxious and this can have huge repercussions on their attendance at school:

This is why:

  • Many Autistic and SEND pupils are already highly anxious about Covid, the higher infection rates and the changing rules around Tiers and restrictions.
  • They may have too much information from the news or be confused about what is going on around them. Don’t assume children with SEND understand what the rules are for, even if they can repeat them to you.  It is good to check their understanding first.
  • Routine and familiarity provides safety and calmness for many autistic and SEND pupils. Uncertainty or new situations can cause panic and intense anxiety that affects everything else at home and at school.
  • Autistic and SEND pupils may have heightened sensory needs, from sensitivity to noise, smells, pain, touch, taste, sight or movement.
  • Autistic and SEND children are more likely to have had traumatic clinical or medical experiences in the past which could have been handled badly by the professionals involved, and this trauma could resurface when there is a ‘demand’ or expectation that they should have a covid test.

Please also remember that some of your staff may be autistic or have other needs and may also need extra consideration as they are asked to be tested.  Be open to staff approaching you and be ready to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ when necessary. (Equality Act 2010 covers all of this).

Here are some ideas of how we can help and some resources that might help.

  • Have a clear explanation in simple language available to all pupils. If you are sending a letter home, set it out with clear bullet points and preferably with pictures.   (See the easy read examples below).
  • Be clear about when, what, who and how long the test will be for and keep to this. Keep waiting to a minimum and allow student to take in a familiar sensory or interest item to distract themselves.
  • Contact parents of your SEND pupils and ask for information about how the pupil is feeling about the testing and if they have any ideas that might help.
  • Send easy read or social story information to every SEND child.
  • Make allowances for more time, attendance at the testing first or last when it is quiet, and as little waiting around as possible for your autistic, SEND and highly anxious children.
  • Distraction is worth trying too, but involve the child. Ask them if they would like a fiddle toy, listening to music or any other help to distract them from solely having to concentrate on the test.   Make sure the people doing the test know this is okay.
  • Have clear, visual pictures, in a sequence, of what will happen in the test and how long it will take. Have this on the wall to the entrance of the testing room for ALL students.
  • Give the child time to recover, and choices about what to do afterwards. Some will prefer to go back to class and get involved in the normal routine.   Others may need a place to go, to regulate themselves and recover.
  • Tell them what they did well and reassure them that each time they have to have a test the same considerations and adaptations will be made.

The Lateral Flow Tests we will be using in schools are the same as those used in the mass testing in Liverpool.  These take a swab from both nostrils and and the throat, but if someone can’t manage both, just one will do, which may comfort some people.  I have had two covid tests, both negative thankfully, but the throat swab made me retch and I hated it.  I am glad this test can only swab the nose but that in itself needs preparing for as it is an unusual, and uncomfortable feeling.

This may be what it will be like – (to be updated when we know for sure):

Video of the Lateral Flow Test pilot in a school

In the end, some may not be able to take the test, no matter what you do (although your adaptations could help many others) and the government has said:

“Testing is voluntary, and no child or young person will be tested unless informed consent has been given by the appropriate person. 

Please try to make sure that all pupils know that this is okay and that they are not under greater risk if some people do not get tested.  In the end, they are all likely to be a bit scared, but we do not want to have pupil’s bullied because they are unable to have a test.


This social story to explain the testing is more suitable for older children at secondary school.  If children are at a special school then their school should send suitable information home and will have communication in place in school relevant to their pupils.  This story has been written based on the current government information and may help you prepare you child for school based testing.  Please do ask the school to take into consideration the above points and give your child time to process all the information.  As with all social stories, please use responsibly and personalise them.  This one is editable in powerpoint.  It may be that your child is better with some of the Easy Read information in the resources above.

Having a Covid Test at school

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