Students with Physical Difficulties (PD) will often find managing ordinary activities (like eating / drinking / communicating / concentrating / sitting up / standing / mobilising) more tiring than others and as a result are more likely to experience fatigue. This in turn can lead to missed opportunities for learning, socialising and feeling part of the school community.
Returning to school in following absence due to COVID 19 is likely to mean an increased likelihood of tiredness for everyone including / especially those with PD.
The worst thing to experience with regard to energy levels and fatigue is ‘Boom and Bust’ where a student puts everything into activities and then ‘crashes’ needing to rest / sleep / be out of school. The better thing to do is regulate their energy output in order to maintain their ability to function and this can take some planning.
We can think about energy capacity in a number of ways e.g. the charge on a mobile phone / tablet or a number of tokens / tickets / spoons. We have a certain amount to use in a day and if we engage in a high energy activity, it could be that we use such a large chunk of our daily allowance that we do not have enough left to get us through the rest of the day. So staying with the analogy of the mobile phone or tablet – spending time on You Tube, watching a video or chatting on the phone will take more battery than reading an ebook / sending some texts. And for the tokens – if you have 20 for the day and spend 10 on a PE lesson followed by an active break time you will only have 10 left to do everything else you need to that day!
The key is to identify which activities are the highest impact on energy levels (Red); which are OK or medium (Amber) and which are low impact (Green). It will differ between students, some being exhausted by the long PE session, but others finding it harder to concentrate in a noisy classroom or dinner hall environment. Some will find chatting or working on something together with their friends is a low energy activity while others find reading a book quietly in the book corner allows them to zone everyone else out and recharge.
- Work with the student and make a list of their High, Medium and Low impact activities. It doesn’t just have to be about physical activity, it may be that there is a certain subject that really takes it out of them e.g. Maths because they find it really hard.
- Work together with the family to get ideas about impact and activities from them.
- Make sure there is a mix of the different energy activities during their day / week.
- Monitor fatigue levels, if the student continues to ‘Bust’, work out what the ‘Boom’ is for them and adjust accordingly e.g. one young lady really struggled when her school introduced music in the dinner hall one day a week. The increase in sound clutter exhausted her and meant that she could not concentrate on eating so she had to eat her lunch at a quiet table away with a couple of others away from the main hall.
- Review the list to see if the high, medium and low activity levels remain the same or have changed as the term / year progresses.
- Remember, it is better for students to be in school all of the time engaging with low impact activity levels, then increase engagement rather than attempt everything and crash so hard they need time out of school to recover. A large crash will take longer to recover from than the learning ‘missed’ by engaging in several short low impact activities during the day.