Since rates of anxiety, depression and self harm, including suicide and substance abuse are decidedly on the rise, there’s s striking need for clinicians, counselors and mentors to think differently. We can and must learn different and better ways to connect and communicate with struggling kids and teens. The sciences of learning disabilities, motivation and attention can show us some roadmaps to those better ways. The best practices from specialized populations gives insights to help everyone.
The focus of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is in designing and delivering (teaching) curriculum in ways that give greater access to the widest range of abilities and learning differences. By varying motivational approaches (engagement), how information is presented (representation) and the ways in which kids interact and show understanding (expression), we can reach more kids with better results. This approach reduces the need for specialized instructions tailored only for one type of learner. While there will always be a need for special and intensive instruction, UDL helps to reduce that need. As is sometimes mentioned, building a ramp for wheelchair use or for someone on crutches winds up creating easier access for all.
We can take best practices learned when treating and teaching kids with learning disabilities, and apply some of them when working with all students. Think about using visual prompts when stimulating written expression for someone with dyslexia. It can help prompt and organize language for them; but this approach can also be useful when treating kids with anxiety and depression. Whenever you want to communicate and build connection with kids and teens who are struggling with mental health (whether or not they’re caused by or are secondary results from LDs), using approaches that put less wear and tear on working memory and processing speed are useful for anyone. They use smoother and more direct neuronal pathways, reduce cognitive load, and in many cases lessen resistance to therapy. Understanding the impact of a child’s learning profile can be an incredibly powerful part of communication. Understanding one’s own Learning Profile is to understand your own defaults, biases and preferences, all of which can either hinder or build communication and relationship.