Mental Health ; the use of Books Beyond Words for promoting Emotional Well Being in children with Learning Disabilities
Nasen, the UK’s leading organisation supporting those who work with or care for children and young people with special and additional educational needs and disabilities (SEND), has launched a free miniguide to supporting girls with autism spectrum conditions/disorder (ASC/ASD).
Girls and Autism: Flying under the radar, is a 20-page full-colour guide designed to alert busy teachers to the hidden struggles of girls with ASC/ASD. Misunderstanding of their support needs, it suggests, may lead to unnecessary school exclusion and mental health disorders.
Behaviours stereotypically associated with autism are now widely recognised by most teachers – the high-intensity interests (e.g. trains, mechanisms, dinosaurs) and the self-regulatory and anxiety-associated behaviours (e.g. flapping, jumping, resonating noises, meltdowns). However, now researchers are warning that these behaviours are not equally indicative of ASC/ASD in both boys and girls.
‘Ironically, it seems we, as professionals, have been over-focused on the detail and not seen the bigger picture,’ says co-author Jo Egerton. ‘It is not the object of interest that is key, but the extreme intensity and duration of interest that sets girls and boys with autism apart from their typically developing peers.’
A young girl with autism may, for example, collect hundreds of identical pictures of her favourite pop star or develop an unusually encyclopaedic knowledge of fashion, Egerton says.
‘Rather than externalising their ASC behaviours, it seems that girls are more likely than their male peers to suppress them, to assiduously study and copy peers’ socially acceptable behaviours, and to adopt more internalised and invisible relief from stress (e.g. self-harm, eating disorders).’
This means that their ASC/ASD is likely to go unnoticed, she adds, unless their school knows how girls with autism ‘fly under the radar’.
The Girls and Autism miniguide – which comes out of the UK’s National Association of Head Teachers’ Autism and Girls Forum chaired by Professor Barry Carpenter CBE – is a first step for teachers in becoming more informed. It introduces the debate around autism and gender; identifies key issues for girls with ASC/ASD; provides practical school-based support strategies; shares family, professional and academic perspectives; and signposts further reading.
‘Our challenge in schools is to evolve a curriculum and pedagogy that are responsive to our new understanding of girls with ASC/ASD and their specific needs,’ Professor Carpenter says. ‘This will involve a process of inquiry, to investigate and explore, for and with the girls, how best their needs can be met.’
You can download your free copy of Girls and Autism: Flying under the radar here.
For the National Conference on Girls on the Autism Spectrum ; The BIG Shout, to be held in London on 27th January 2017.please click here http://www.naht.org.uk/welcome/naht-events/conferences/girls-on-the-autism-spectrum-the-big-shout-conference/
£29.99 169pp A4 photocopiable paperback ISBN 978-1-906531-76-8 Buckingham; Hinton House Published 2016
At this time of significant focus and concern about the mental health needs of young people in Britain (as evidenced by the Heads Together campaign www.headstogether.org.uk – led by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge), practical resources that empower teachers to create dynamic curriculum responses are very welcome. Yet again, Tina Rae provides us with such a resource.
In a well-scripted Introduction, Dr Rae scaffolds some key constructs, which build the evidence-base for the subsequent teaching and learning strategies offered in this text. I was particularly taken with her section on ‘The Importance of Positive Emotions.’ Pulling on the seminal work of Seligman, she offers a tried interpretation, in the classroom context, of hope and optimism, flow and happy memories.
Whilst the first and last may have obvious interpretations, it is the concept of ‘flow’ that struck me as having pedagogical relevance to classroom dynamics. Flow is defined as ‘a sense of deep engagement in an activity during which time passes extremely quickly and the individual is able to work at full capacity.’ Engagement is a major platform for building responsive pedagogy in this 21st century (Carpenter et al, 2015), and here the antidote of full authentic engagement in challenging, meaningful learning is pitched against anxiety arising from feelings of disenfranchisement in an alien curriculum.
“Young people are frequently flooded with anxious and negative thoughts and doubts “ states, Tina Rae, and rightly shows how this can lead to a rapid disintegration of their emotional well-being. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), has become a popular therapy for assisting in the restructuring of thought processes, by examining the interface between emotions and our behaviours. Schools will have known of children receiving CBT to promote positive mental health, but it was something carried out by the Psychologist or CAMHS worker. There was no curriculum context for this intervention, and the key tenets were never fully articulated in terms of teaching and learning.
Through a range of photocopiable resources and activities ‘Building Positive Thinking Habits’ goes on to do just that! It confronts the negativity, particularly around self image, that pervades the teenage years of so many young people. Bombarded by destructive negative thoughts and influences from so many angles, a rapid erosion in the mental health state can quickly occur, and direct interventions are crucial. This is where activities such as NATS and PATS can be useful and relevant. How can the power of Positive Automatic Thoughts (PATS) overcome Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATS)?
All of the activities outlined would be of great value to the teachers (as part of tutor time), to SENCOs (for designing specific interventions) and for Teaching Assistants who are often delegated to implement those interventions. Ultimately the ‘Solutions-Focussed Mind’ is the key to increasing self-confidence and resilience in young people. Whilst CBT is only one approach currently available, at long last we have a resource book that explains to teachers what it is, and how it can be useful in schools as a valid, evidence-based intervention, which has a distinctive contribution to make for all Young People.
Professor Barry Carpenter, CBE, Ph.D.
International Educational Consultant September 2016
In this briefing paper, Barry Carpenter looks at who are the children whose mental health are particularly vulnerable, and discusses how the creation of a curriculum around Emotional Well Being, may reduce this significant barrier to achievement. The paper also looks at Mental Health as a pervasive Complex Need in children of all abilities.