Struggles and Hurdles: Ending the Silence

Eleni Armaou, Student Oriented Services (SOS) and Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Coordinator
Metropolitan School of Frankfurt

We all struggle at some point in our lives, either for professional or personal, family, academic or other reasons. The pandemic has exacerbated the need to be resilient, to stand up after you fall, but such things are easier said than done! So what is the first, initial step we need to take? Do we just stay silent and everything will be OK? Do we need to speak up? If we speak up and voice our concerns, will we face the fear of stigma? Most psychology professionals, counsellors and psy-educational specialists in the areas of Learning Support, Psychological Support and Personal Coaching name the first crucial step: Name your feelings, put them into words, categorise them, analyse them, as by doing this, although you are far from finding a solution, you are on the first square of gaining control. When you know something, when you are aware of the hurdles and struggles and can identify them, here it is: you have moved to square two!

NAMI.ORG has a variety of helpful resources for students, families, and adults who are trying to tell the difference between what expected behaviors are and what might be the signs of a mental illness isn’t always easy.

There’s no easy test that can let someone know if there is mental illness or if actions and thoughts might be typical behaviors of a person or the result of a physical illness. Each illness has its own symptoms, but common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents can include the following:

● Excessive worrying or fear

● Feeling excessively sad or low

● Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning

● Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria

● Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger

● Avoiding friends and social activities

● Difficulties understanding or relating to other people

● Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy

● Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite

● Changes in sex drive

● Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality)

● Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight” or anosognosia)

● Overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs

● Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)

● Thinking about suicide

● Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress

● An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance Mental health conditions can also begin to develop in young children. Because they’re still learning how to identify and talk about thoughts and emotions, their most obvious symptoms are behavioral. Symptoms in children may include the following:

● Changes in school performance

● Excessive worry or anxiety, for instance fighting to avoid bed or school

● Hyperactive behaviour

● Frequent nightmares

● Frequent disobedience or aggression

● Frequent temper tantrums

Where To Get Help

Don’t be afraid to reach out if you or someone you know needs help. Learning all you can about mental health is an important first step.

Reach out to your health insurance, primary care doctor or state/county mental health authority for more resources.

Resource: Mental Illness: Warning Signs and Symptoms

Most Importantly, reach out to your ECIS school Support teams, your pastoral officers, your Learning Support specialists and your School Counsellors in order to voice your concerns.

Our SEN/LS SIG is happy to help and you can participate in our webinars on mental health support and mindfulness! Our Next SEN/LS SIG event:  Click here to learn more

 

What do you think about the points raised in this post? We’d love to have your thoughts below.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Eleni Armaou studied Psychology, Pedagogy and Philosophy ( major in Educational  Psychology) and holds a MA in Special Educational Needs from the University of Leeds, in the UK. She has worked in IB Schools in Istanbul, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt and is now the SOS and ALN Coordinator at the Metropolitan School of Frankfurt.

Eleni is passionate about AI, Robotics, Space Travel, Quantum Physics as well as Human Psychology, Inclusive Education, Leadership and Management Studies, Negotiation Skills, and Conflict Resolution.

She is a Member of ECIS SEN/Learning Support SIG. Visit the website here.

Personal Website

Pygmalion and Quantum Theory: When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change

Eleni Armaou, Student Oriented Services (SOS) and Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Coordinator
Metropolitan School of Frankfurt

 Image Source

 

It is an axiom in Human Psychology, a known fact, albeit not easily perceptible, an unwritten law, which you study the minute you step your feet into a university amphitheatre of a Psychology faculty: your perception informs the way you look at things, defines their meaning and subsequently shapes your actions or reactions.

 

As an educator I found self-observation enlightening and I started observing myself: my mood, my underlying assumptions, my fears and hopes and how they can fundamentally change my teaching practice during the instructional moment. If I am happy, I see happiness everywhere, if I am hopeful, I recognise it in the eyes of students, if I strive for change and innovation, they will follow suit. It is as if everyone feeds off each other’s mood, and yet this tiny grain of truth is usually overlooked, especially in moments of crisis. How does this manifestation of  rule become universal?

 

On a larger scale, this of the universe, it has long been ( much longer than we think) theorised that the atoms do not possibly have an infinite and given state but rather are in a constant status of Superposition, therefore creating infinite versions of themselves and subsequently of reality. Multiple versions of reality means, essentially, that there is a multiverse.

And of course, the observer’s application of observation, an act, changes the observed object. This theory echoes the theory of Shroedinger’s cat ( the cat is both alive and dead in the box) as well as similar theories in Psychology, Humanities and of course Arts.

 

Moving away from subatomic and macroscopic systems, and researching in the field of Educational Studies, we first encounter aspects of the above mentioned theory in the famous book by R. Rosenthal Pygmalion in the Classroom (1968). In his introduction, Rosenthal makes a special reference to Bernard Shaw’s (1913) play by providing a fragment of the protagonist’s Eliza Doolittle monologue:

 

You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up ( the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a girl is not how she behaves but how she is treated. I  shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will; but I know that I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.

 

In a series of experiments which Rosenthal mentions in his book, the mechanism of self-fulfilling prophecy is apparent and in play with all factors in human relationships, but particularly, in the dual relationship of learner-educators and that, if our expectation is that a learner of a given intelligence ( term is outdated, this comes from a 1968 book) will not respond creatively to a task which confronts him, and especially if we make this expectation known to the learner, the probability is that he will respond creatively is very much reduced.

 

This is a huge life ( and teaching ) lesson for teachers: what you think is what you will create.

 

Sources:

  1. Rosenthal, R., Jacobson, L. Pygmalion in the classroom. Urban Rev 3, 16–20 (1968).
  2. https://www.newscientist.com/definition/quantum-physics/

 

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Eleni Armaou studied Psychology, Pedagogy and Philosophy ( major in Educational  Psychology) and holds a MA in Special Educational Needs from the University of Leeds, in the UK. She has worked in IB Schools in Istanbul, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt and is now the SOS and ALN Coordinator at the Metropolitan School of Frankfurt.

Eleni is passionate about AI, Robotics, Space Travel, Quantum Physics as well as Human Psychology, Inclusive Education, Leadership and Management Studies, Negotiation Skills, and Conflict Resolution.

She is a Member of ECIS SEN/Learning Support SIG.

Website: https://eleniarmaou.wixsite.com/inclusiveducation

 

Living with Asperger’s – an interview with SEN professional Beverley Williams

 

Aimee Haddock
Marketing Executive, Real Group Ltd.

 

 

Beverley Williams is a former delegate of Real Training. She has had an expansive career, influencing the lives of many young people with SEN. Not only has Beverley completed multiple courses with Real Training and gained a vast amount of professional knowledge through SEN and safeguarding roles, but she was also diagnosed with Asperger’s at around 50 years old. We thought it would be useful to share Beverley’s story, not only for those delegates looking to have an impact but also for those with Aspergers who may be looking for some advice.

Discussing Beverley’s early life, there was a common challenge that she faced almost every day – being able to build meaningful friendships and understanding how to behave in certain social situations. During her time at primary and secondary school, Beverley found herself feeling exhausted by social politics. Something she also experienced in some of her job roles in later life. She acknowledges her personal daily struggle with this and now understands this to be part of her Asperger’s. Explaining how she felt after her diagnosis regarding those social challenges, Beverley said,

“It has been really releasing on a personal level… I don’t feel I need to explain things to other people but it explains to me why I find situations hard.”

Since her diagnosis, Beverley has felt a lot more confident in building relationships, explaining that now she knows what she is going to find tricky, she can prepare herself and put certain strategies in place to help her deal with different situations.

I wanted to understand a little more about how Beverley thinks her experiences in early life influenced her approach whilst working with SEN children. She explained that she has always resisted stereotyping young people and children by their diagnosis. She explains that not everybody with the same diagnosis has the same limitations, behaviours and challenges. Her focus remains on the individual and she is highly conscious of the social isolation of SEN children, constantly working to combat this. Through her work, Beverley has noticed her ability to acknowledge each individual, recognising those who are on the edge of the social group and understanding that they may be happy there. Highlighting that this approach is strongly influenced by her experiences.

Following her own diagnosis, I wanted to know if Beverley felt her approach was influenced or changed in any way. Beverley explained the biggest alteration was a new awareness of females, acknowledging the likelihood of masking – not just Aspergers but all kinds of challenges. She feels this made her look more deeply into triggers and behaviours and spend more time getting to know each individual.

Beverley’s learning journey with Real Training has seen her complete CCET and NASENCO. She is also currently working on the Autism Spectrum Conditions module. After gaining knowledge through her lived experiences with Autism and her varying professional pathway, Beverley continues to expand her knowledge. When asked about her time studying with us Beverley said,

”My NASENCO tutor was fantastic. I explained about my Aspergers and she was really supportive. That gave me quite a lot of confidence to go onto the next course. I acknowledge that her support helped me to keep going and gave me the encouragement I needed. I never felt that she was making allowances nor do I think she was, but I did feel my tutor had an understanding of how I work best.”

I asked Beverley to provide us with some of her top tips, not only for other delegates working with SEN children but also for young people with Autism, highlighting the kinds of things she wishes she knew in her younger years. Although Beverley had not yet been diagnosed while she herself was at school she now understands, through her diagnosis, why she found school hard.

Beverley’s Top Tips for working with SEN children

  1. Don’t stereotype people on the Autistic Spectrum, they are as individual as everyone else.
  2. Provide a range of strategies to mirror the range of people.
  3. Give students the opportunity to work in a calm area, avoiding sensory overload. Always tailor these strategies to their individual needs and preferences.
  4. Look for those on the edge of the group who don’t feel they fit into any specific group.
  5. Focus on an individual’s interests and strengths and then build these into your learning strategies for them. In my experience, people on the Autistic Spectrum are more likely to be engaged in their learning if you encourage them to go deeper with specific interests instead of broadening their general knowledge.
  6. Understand, if you can, that what is important to you may be totally irrelevant to someone on the Autism Spectrum and they, therefore, may not see the point in learning about some things, which may seem trivial and pointless to them.
  7. It is often exhausting for children on the Autism Spectrum to comply with expectations. If they comply at home, they might not have the energy to comply at school and vice versa. Provide opportunities for the individual to restore and refresh using whatever strategies work for them- don’t make assumptions about what these are.

Beverley’s Top Tips for young people in education with Autism

  1. It’s ok to be different, everyone is!
  2. You don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not. It’s exhausting.
  3. Find a teacher or other member of staff you can talk to.
  4. Ask for a quiet area you can go to if you need to take a break from the noise or light, etc. If you feel embarrassed to ask for this perhaps you could find a ‘job’ you need to do.
  5. Don’t let people ‘pigeon-hole’ you or put you in a box to fit their expectations.
  6. It’s ok to make a mistake because it’s all part of learning. Getting something wrong isn’t a failure, it simply means you have learned something new.

Many thanks to Beverley Williams for her insightful thoughts.

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aimee Haddock is the Marketing Executive at Real Group Ltd.

How Social Determinants Affect Young Adults with Autism and Learning Differences: Creating a Plan for Future Success

Jenna Knauss, MS, LMFT, Program Director, The College Internship Program

Social determinants of behavioral health (SDBH) can have a significant impact on young adults on the autism spectrum, especially as they enter adolescence and young adulthood. Research indicates that most graduates with autism and other learning differences will have a difficult time following high school for almost any outcome – working, continuing school, living independently, socializing and participating in the community, and staying healthy and safe (Thompson 2018). Repeated social failures may generalize to all events and can develop into a passive, failure-prone attributional style consistent with learned helplessness and depression (Abramson et al. 1978). These symptoms only intensify during the transition to adulthood.

Society has begun to embrace the unique characteristics and strengths that belong to individuals on the autism spectrum and those with learning differences. One has to look no further than Netflix to see an explosion of television shows and documentaries that warm our hearts and enrich our understanding of neurodiverse children and adults. Even still, many societal conditions exist that impact the mental, physical, and emotional health of individuals on the autism spectrum – workplace discrimination, academic and school supports that fall short of what a person needs to succeed, community programs that can be overwhelming for adults with social anxiety and fears, inaccessible clinical services for those in lower socioeconomic groups, late or missed diagnoses for young women on the spectrum… just to name a few.

At the College Internship Program (CIP), one of the first things shared aloud with prospective families and students is this: obstacles exist in life and, in all likelihood, you and your family may have faced more obstacles than other people your age. When you leave this program, you will have a sense of what you want to do with your life. You will be prepared to face challenges head on by forming a path that is marked by self-awareness and self-determination.

How can a young person with autism or learning differences begin to carve a path for him/her/their self, a path of productivity and purpose?

Young adults with autism or learning differences should prepare a plan to address the challenges brought on by social determinants by focusing on several key domains of their lives: academic, career, independent living and wellness skills, and social-emotional health.

Academics – know what you need and how to ask. Self-advocacy paves the way for accommodations and support. Whether it be a college exam or a Learner’s Permit test, you must be the voice behind your accommodations. Put them in writing, role play with a trusted friend, speak to your instructor and then verify that the instructor followed through in putting the plan in place. It is important to assist young adults in all areas of post-secondary learning. Asking the DMV for testing accommodations can be just as daunting as asking a professor for extended time on an exam!  Students must understand what they need in order to succeed. Transferring individualized education plans to post-secondary settings and mastering executive function skills needed for studying and classroom preparation are all part of the work it takes to succeed in a post-secondary education.

Careers – know when to whom and how to self-disclose. Grab all the literature that you can on resume writing, current interview formats, workplace attire, and job application trends. For example, many businesses are now asking applicants to participate in group interviews, oftentimes over a computer screen. Social nuances of workplace communication aren’t easy to navigate for individuals on the spectrum. At CIP, students do a deep dive into these and many other workplace scenarios in workshops such as: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Job Application and Resume Support, etc. Many young adults recognize that they have to work hard to overcome the assumptions and stereotypes that come with their diagnosis. Ask a social skills coach to role-play various workplace scenarios with you: what do you bring to your first workplace potluck, what does small talk around the water cooler really look like, and what will the job force look like in 2020 and beyond? Many can relate to the embarrassing Zoom backgrounds or noises that we have finally learned to work around or at least laugh about.

Independent living and wellness skills: master your routine. Before succeeding in a career, one needs to know how to navigate a day. The common phrase, every successful day begins with a well-made bed is a great starting point. Develop a morning and evening routine, learn to navigate your local grocery store, plan 21 meals for the week, develop an exercise and sleep routine, and use a HALT check (am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?) to monitor needs on a moment by moment basis.

Social and Emotional Health: understand your diagnosis and develop a well-rounded plan. Create a support team and become part of a community that embraces you and supports your wellness routines or coping skills. A support team may include psychiatrists, therapists, life coaches, parents, peers, and trusted mentors.

A young woman was recently coached through a difficult pandemic-related workplace situation. As an employee at an assisted living facility, she learned that close to 120 employees and residents had tested positive for COVID-19. With a roommate’s health to consider, along with her own, she began the delicate process of sending inquiries to her employer. How was the situation being managed? What safeguards were being put in place to address the outbreak? What was she expected to do as she returned to work? Was she entitled to a leave of absence? Situations like this one are difficult to navigate, let alone in a pandemic situation and for a young woman who struggles with the nuances of workplace communication. It took an effortful strategy and a support team to put together email communications and phone calls in order to obtain the information she needed and in order to make an informed decision about whether she should return to work. This young woman had a trusted team of individuals that she could lean on. She had developed a voice when it came to self-advocacy and was able to obtain the answers that she needed in order to make a decision, confidently, and with self-assurance.

With support, forethought, and determination, young people can lead a life marked by passion and productivity. There is much to contribute and even more for society to gain when young people on the autism spectrum are embraced and encouraged as they forge unique paths toward development and growth.

Original article: Behavioral Health News.

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Jenna Knauss, MS, LMFT

Jenna Knauss, MS, LMFT, is Program Director at The College Internship Program. She has worked in the field of clinical psychology and program administration for the past ten years. Jenna worked in a private practice with adolescents and their families providing intensive wraparound and therapeutic services. She has been an adjunct instructor in both Community College and private University settings at the graduate and undergraduate level and held administrative roles in both the outpatient and residential setting.