How can we avoid this having long-term impacts on mental health?

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Lack of stimulation can have huge detrimental effects on mental health, writes Hester Anderiesen Le Riche

Adults with special educational needs across the UK are six times more likely to die from Covid-19 on average, yet they find themselves at low on the priority list when it comes to receiving government support during the pandemic. Time after time, staff at assisted- living facilities are left confused and stressed as they anxiously wait to receive guidance from the government, which often arrives weeks after it is issued to other areas of society.

Exploring ways to protect people with SEN

Without clear guidance on testing and visits, those with special educational needs struggle to cope with changing measures in place restricting social interaction during lockdown. These restrictions mean many are unable to socialise in any form, and are left feeling secluded and without any mental or physical stimulation. Such a lack of stimulation can have hugely detrimental effects on individuals mental health and wellbeing at what is already a difficult time for all. Carers and relatives now need to explore ways to effectively protect those with special educational needs from the virus without impeding Assisted-living facilities can turn to play therapy as one such method to improve their residents’ wellbeing. Play therapy is remarkably effective in activating social behaviours and enabling those who may typically struggle to communicate, to connect with others and their surroundings.

The benefits of play therapy

Play involving interactive light projection.

Play therapy encompasses therapeutic activities and games that trigger positive reactions and emotional comfort whilst alleviating negative emotions. In fact, research shows that play therapy activities are exceptionally beneficial for those with special educational needs as they improve social skills, re-build self-esteem, and increase positivity while also reducing negative emotions like anger, fear and sadness. Therefore, play therapy could also be particularly effective in releasing any anxious feelings that they are likely to be experiencing during this uncertain period.

In addition, play therapy is a highly effective way to support physical wellbeing as it encourages movement and exercise during the activities. The exercise involved in various play therapy activities helps adults with special educational needs to keep their immune systems strong and healthy whilst also causing them to release endorphins which leave them feeling upbeat and optimistic.

Although any form of play and social interaction can deliver these benefits, play therapy-based technology that involves interactive light projection games are some of the most effective to utilise during the pandemic. This is because the projected light animations used in the technology allow for a contactless element, making it a very safe and hygienic form of play. Importantly, users can play without risking the transmission of the virus and carers can simply wipe down the table or surface used beforehand and afterwards to disinfect and ensure users’ health is protected.

By incorporating these aspects of play therapy into daily or weekly routines, carers and relatives can protect the mental health of those with special educational needs, and enhance their quality of life in a way that does not encourage the virus to spread or put vulnerable residents in physical danger.

Hester Anderiesen Le Riche
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Hester Anderiesen Le Riche, PhD, is an expert in how play can improve the quality of life of those living with learning disabilities and cognitive challenges. She developed the world’s first interactive light game for those with learning disabilities – the Tovertafel (Magic Table). W: tover.care/uk/tovertafel/adults T:@ToverCareUK F: @ToverCareUK Insta: @ToverCareUK

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