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.
“When working with children and teens who are struggling in school, a thorough psycho educational evaluation is so helpful and necessary. But it is a tool for understanding. The goal is understanding, connection and treatment.
In treating teenagers and young adults with depression, anxiety, and addictions, knowing the intricacies of their Learning Profile is powerful.
What are the easiest neurological pathways to accessing feelings and ruminative thoughts?
I’m privileged to be leading and partnering with Evoke Therapy Programs, a long-time trusted leader in this field.
We’re working to apply the latest and most important parts of Cognitive Science to help heal struggling teens in treatment through on-going clinical and staff trainings. The staff are incredibly engaged and reflective. High-level understanding of our children’s Learning and Cognitive Profile dramatically increases our options to lessen resistance, heal the root causes of wounding, and build our own community. Perhaps most importantly, this approach frees the heart to speak its most important truths.
Five Keys of a Child’s Learning or Cognitive Profile: 1. Language Processing 2. Visual Imagery 3. Kinesthetic Sensing 4. Executive Functions 5. Processing Speed and Depth
These things matter. All Minds Matter. All Brains Matter.
About 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and one of the early signs observed by parents and caregivers is a delay in their social and communication skills. Children with autism have a hard time expressing themselves and communicating with others, and these difficulties can become more debilitating as they grow older. This is why early diagnosis and interventions are crucial for children with ASD. Apart from traditional interventions, parents and practitioners have utilized alternative methods like art therapy to improve the communication skills of children with ASD.
The Importance Of Early Interventions For Children With Autism
Due to their difficulty in communicating with others, children with ASD may develop aggressive behaviors, self-injurious behaviors, social withdrawal, as well as feelings of loneliness and depression. Autism can also co-occur with other conditions such as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), clinical depression, motor difficulties and sleep problems. Thus, it’s important to address these issues as early as possible and provide children with the interventions they need to cope with these difficulties. Traditional interventions include applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, social skills training and psychopharmacotherapy.
Art therapy can help children with ASD pay attention and engage with their surroundings more as well as communicate better with other people. As visual and concrete thinkers, art therapy can be used to explain certain situations to children with ASD and give them a visual way of solving problems. This can be more effective compared to a theoretical discussion that deals with abstract situations or problems.
Art therapy can also be adapted to the specific needs of a child diagnosed with autism. For example, a child with sensory modulation difficulties may become more engaged when provided with a variety of art materials and mediums. The sensory nature of drawing or painting can encourage these children to express themselves more.
As children become teens or adults, art therapy can still be used to enhance their social and communication skills. Art-based group activities can provide individuals with autism a social environment that is supportive and understanding of their experiences. Within the group, they can share about their artworks and a therapist can provide prompts that will encourage them to successfully converse with others.
Aggressive and self-injurious behaviors from children with ASD can be due to difficulty expressing themselves and communicating effectively with others. Studies have found that alternative interventions such as art therapy, especially when utilized at a young age, can help with self-expression as well as improve their communication skills. Not only that, parents, caregivers and teachers can also use art therapy to understand children with ASD. Their artwork can provide insight into how they view others as well as their unique experiences. As such, art therapy can be a very valuable tool not just for children with ASD but also or their families, teachers and friends.
A BRAVE FACE Masks, a charcoal drawing by Alexandra Kelso, grapples with the feeling of trying to act like everything is fine while also struggling with mental illness. – IMAGE COURTESY OF ALEXANDRA KELSO
The Effects of Educational Wounding
Two of the most significant stressors for U.S.school-aged youth are academic struggle and failure. Pressures to achieve and succeed have become so pervasive and at the same time kids have access to fewer and fewer supports. For students with Learning Differences such as Dyslexia the problems are even more critical. We are routinely wounding and traumatizing our creative and sensitive students.
Though students with learning disabilities can achieve greatness, they all too often fall into depression and behavioral distress. Common experiences include feeling shamed, “less than” or damaged. And the results are alarming,
Some years back a white paper put out by the National Center for Learning Disabilities and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as well as the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (Columbia University) referenced studies that indicated what may seem obvious:
1. Children with LD are at greater risk for school failure and
2. dropping out
But more Striking:
3. As many as ½ of children with ADD self-medicate with drugs and alcohol
4. One study indicated that 40% of individuals in substance abuse treatment programs have Learning Disabilities.
Solutions need focus on adjusting treatment and communication approaches that are sensitive to the cognitive/learning profile of students and not the other way around.
“Dr. Helen Taussig was the founder of the field of pediatric cardiology. She overcame opposition to become a preeminent cardiologist and physician. Despite severe dyslexia and discrimination because of her gender, Taussig obtained her medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 1927. Suffering from hearing loss due to a childhood illness, Taussig mastered non-stethoscope ways to monitor the heart. Using these innovative techniques, Taussig discovered the cause of ‘blue baby syndrome’ and helped design a surgery to correct it.” — via the National Women’s History Museum
Philip Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet proves that learning differently (dyslexia) can result in greatness. His writing is powerful. If you listen to his story you also hear about anger and deep shame as a result of being an academic outcast and misunderstood. Loss of connection and shame are too often the legacy of an education system ill equipped for Learning Differences. Responding to this burden isn’t a binary choice. LD’s can be opportunities for success but they also carry great risks for struggling with anxiety depression and self-harm. How do we carry both?
Kate Middleton’s Brother James Reveals His Struggle With Depression, Dyslexia and ADD
The coin is sharp and two-sided: We know that people with learning disabilities and developmental differences can have tremendous lives, professional success, great fulfillment and joy. There is however, always a shadow, and ignorance of the increased risks our/these children, teens and adults face serves no one least of all them.
“I know I’m richly blessed and live a privileged life. But it did not make me immune to depression,” Middleton said.
“It’s not a feeling but an absence of feelings. You exist without purpose and direction. I couldn’t feel joy, excitement or anticipation—only heart-thudding anxiety propelled me out of bed in the morning.”