Four Key Tips for Supporting Mental Health in Children and Young People with Complex Needs

As part of Children’s Mental Health Week (w/c 6 February) our Therapy Outreach Services Team put together some practical advice for supporting mental health in children and young people with complex needs.

To hear about these areas in more detail, please join us at our Sensory Processing and What is AAC? Training Taster sessions next month, for just £10 per event.

Tip One: Communication is Key

Communication difficulties can often be a source of frustration for our children and young people; it is important to understand subtleties in their communication which may tell us about their mood.  Without the appropriate communication method in place it limits a person’s ability to participate in social interactions and everyday activities which can lead to isolation, depression and behaviours that challenge.  

Having an awareness of an individual’s communication difficulties and supporting them to access the most appropriate method of communication can help promote a feeling of involvement; enabling them to be heard.  

At Seashell Trust, we commonly use Augmentative and Alterative Communication (AAC) methods including the use of symbols, photos, Objects, signing and high tech communication devices to enable our children and young people to be able to effectively get their message across.

Children with communication difficulties often have difficulty understanding what is going on around them. This can cause anxiety, frustration and withdrawal. Visual supports can help the child to understand what is expected of them and what is happening next. A visual schedule helps to give structure to the day and supports the child’s understanding of what is happening.

Tip Two: Recognise Sensory Processing Difficulties

Sensory Processing difficulties can largely impact on an individual’s mental health and wellbeing. They may be experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety triggered by sensations from their environment and within their own bodies which they do not understand and cannot control.  

Careful recognition, understanding and management of their sensory processing needs by considering the environment, as well as providing opportunities to participate in a personalised sensory diet can be hugely beneficial.

It is important to try and teach self-regulation strategies and support children and young people to experience the benefit of such activities, enabling them to feel more confident and comfortable.  Assisting them to use their preferred communication method to request ‘space’ or a sensory strategy input throughout their day can also prove very empowering and reduces episode of challenging behavior.

Tip Three: Try Yoga and Mindfulness

Yoga and mindfulness techniques can be introduced to reduce the stress and anxiety associated with sensory processing and communication difficulties, therefore, promoting a better mental health and wellbeing.

So many of our children predominately take shallow breaths through their chest; encouraging deep belly breaths can be very calming even if not done for a long period. Some examples of breathing exercises are listed below.

  • Blowing a feather across a table or to another person
  • Watching as their favored item moves up and down on their tummy when they take deep breaths
  • Humming
  • Using bubbles or breath control toys

Yoga poses which are grounding such as child pose, happy baby and bringing knees to the chest not only help with digestion and flexibility, but they also give feedback to our main sensory systems.

Short yoga sequences can also be introduced to support the individual with managing transitions; allowing them to feel more comfortable with the flow of movement and more secure within their bodies.

Tip Four: Promote independence and Purposeful Engagement

Children and young people with complex needs typically have expectations set for them by others, without being offered the opportunity to participate and be involved.

At Seashell Trust we very strongly believe in involving the individual within as many aspects of their support, care, treatment and education as possible. We strive to ensure activities are appropriate and accessible for the individual, enabling them to feel empowered with an increased sense of control in their own lives.

This way, they feel more confident in themselves and their abilities and will greatly develop in their skill building, resilience, wellbeing and independence, supporting them to live happy and healthy lives.


Our Therapy Outreach Services can help your organisation to become more supportive and inclusive of children and young people with complex needs. Join us for our ‘What is AAC’ Training Taster on 19th and 26th March: We are holding a Sensory Processing Training Taster on the same dates.