Reimagining Mental Health Support for Students

By Diane Staehr Fenner, PhD

In my last blog post for K-12Talk, I described how it felt to be an educator and a parent during what we have come to realize were the early stages of the pandemic. Now, more than a year and seemingly a lifetime later, I’ve had plenty of time to ruminate about what’s been most crucial to me during this time. As an educator and author who primarily supports multilingual learners and their teachers, I’ve witnessed teachers’ Herculean efforts to foster relationships with their students and ensure students stay engaged in their education, often at a distance. At the same time, as a mom of three kids in middle and high school, I’m often up in the middle of the night, worried about how the pandemic has affected not only my own kids’ schooling but also their well-being.

Through both of my roles, I’ve personally witnessed how students’ mental health has become a more frequent topic of conversation since the pandemic began. The reality of living through a pandemic has exacerbated many students’ previously existing anxiety and depression and has created new mental health issues for others who did not suffer prior to COVID-19. This post is prompted by a sense of urgency about the need for schools to respond to students’ mental health concerns as educators envision what school might look and feel like in the next academic year.

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Recognizing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

This post is an excerpt from William Dikel’s book, Student Mental Health: A Guide For Teachers, School and District Leaders, School Psychologists and Nurses, Social Workers, Counselors, and Parents (W. W. Norton).

ASD, or autism spectrum disorder, is a uniquely challenging disorder for children both inside and outside the classroom that is often misdiagnosed and misunderstood—often to the extreme detriment of the child. Here, in recognition of National Autism Awareness Month, we share an excerpt from William Dikel’s book Student Mental Health (Norton 2019) that guides teachers in recognizing ASD in their students.

The types and severity of symptoms of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) in children vary widely, from mild and not obvious to severe. Some of the most challenging students are those who have ASD in the more moderate range of severity, but who also have multiple other psychiatric disorders such as depression, bipolar mood disorder, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and so on. Given the dramatic symptoms of these other problems, their ASD may not be obvious. However, it is important to recognize that this disorder has unique characteristics that can interfere with a student’s educational progress and social-emotional functioning in ways that other mental health disorders do not.

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Collaborating with therapists to support your students during COVID-19

By Mary Eno

COVID-19 continues to have a devastating impact on our educational institutions. Therapists who work with kids are experiencing these reverberations along with teachers and school support staff, as we work hard to find ways to support our clients who are struggling. And, just like many school personnel, therapists are hustling to learn how to do their jobs online while worrying about when and how we might be able to open our offices safely again. While we might be tackling kids’ problems from different angles, we’re dealing with similar issues and share a common goal: ensuring that all children learn and thrive at school.

As a therapist who has worked for many years with kids who have school problems, I’ve learned that there are enormous gains when teachers, student support staff, and therapists collaborate. Each party has different insights to share and has access to different aspects of a child’s world. Together, we can pool our data points about a particular child to better understand their lived experience. Given the myriad problems that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, it has never been more important for schools and therapists to work together to support vulnerable students and their families. So how can educators and student support staff best collaborate with outside therapists?

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The Future of Education: Trauma Informed Practices

By Cathleen Beachboard

As schools start making Covid-19 contingency plans for next school year, we must address a secondary crisis that will affect school systems and classrooms everywhere: traumatic stress. Even before this pandemic, almost half the nation’s children had experienced one or more types of serious childhood trauma, according to a survey on Adverse Childhood Experiences by the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH). This pandemic, unfortunately, is adding to that trauma with its far-reaching ripple effects from families losing jobs and income, people going hungry, children seeing family members sick and dying, and a looming fear to leave home due to threat of illness. Even the parents or guardians whom students normally turn to for stability may be overwhelmed trying to keep their own mental health stable. A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 56 percent of adults said that this pandemic has affected their mental health, and 19 percent stated that it has had a major impact.

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