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How schools can help students with learning differences overcome mental health problems

How schools can help students with learning differences overcome mental health problems

The last two years have had a profound effect on the mental health of students and staff as they have tried to navigate the school system, which has changed profoundly.

How can teachers and schools best support students and staff in tackling mental health and social issues? And what additional support should be provided to students with differences in learning and thinking? This is the main question we asked Twitter subscribers to respond during a chat on Twitter earlier in May, which is Mental Health Month. Andy Kahn, an expert in psychology and learning Got it, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people learn and think differently, co-hosted an online discussion. For almost 20 years, Kahn has worked in the public school system to provide training, assessment, direct counseling and therapeutic support to students, their families and staff. He used his experience to share thoughts and resources during the conversation.

Here are some key issues that have been raised and discussed.

What are the biggest mental health issues for students?

Many chat participants expressed that there seems to have been a shift recently to return to performance levels before the pandemic, and are concerned that this may leave little room for students who are still coping with the pandemic trauma. One respondent said:

Children, like many adults in the education system, have difficulty trying to figure out how to manage life and all its expectations, moving from zero to zero employment to COVID-19 without responding to the trauma that many carry, or limited.

N. York-Philip

Others noted that the vast majority are K-12s schools lack school psychologists and counselors it is necessary to respond to the growing mental health problems of students and said that even the recruitment and retention of high quality teachers is becoming a problem.

One of the most difficult problems is the lack of staff in key teaching and support positions. Students do not have access to the most important agents of change, passionate teacher!

Dr. Gregory M.

What do educators need to know about mental health issues that affect children who learn and think differently?

Neurodivergent children are more likely to face mental health problems because of differences in their academic and social development, as well as the stigmas and misconceptions often associated with their differences. As an educator, recognizing the difference between one-time stressors or reactions to difficulties in completing a particular task and what may be a sign of anxiety or depression is crucial – it will determine how to support the student and work with his family.

Andy Kahn

The needs of #mental students ’health are manifested differently for each student, but all require the care and compassion of educators. It is important to understand that the location may vary even within the diagnosis. Meet them where they are, without shame or condemnation.

Jennifer I.

How can educators provide emotional support to children with differences in learning and thinking?

Communication and relationship building! This is essentially the key. Feeling understood, seen, heard … this is the first and most important step required by all educators in their approach to all the people they hope to teach!

N. York-Philip

Satisfaction strategies can be a powerful tool. For young children, starting the day with deep breathing, stretching or yoga can help them calm their bodies and better understand what they are feeling. For older students, breaking down large assignments into smaller steps can help the student set priorities and reduce feelings of congestion.

Andy Kahn

What measures can schools take to better maintain the mental well-being of their teachers so that they, in turn, can better support their students?

According to chat participants, respect, empathy and gratitude can be very helpful.

SUBMISSION SUBMISSION (personal notes, small gifts, etc.) teachers do not work for $$, the reward is the importance of work. When the atmosphere gets harsh, they can lose sight of it and need to be truly appreciated and celebrated!


Show compassion. We are all in the same bad boat, we need to work together not to drown. I tune in every day to the mental health of the students. Shorten the tasks, let them lower their heads, enter into a conversation, hand in a note. Teachers need it in return.


While “mindfulness” may work for some, others need more action from their school principals to avoid burnout, some participants said.

Teachers need to feel that they can practice self-care both in + out of class. This requires things like adequate staff, compensation, peer support. School leaders need to recognize when an educator is at risk of burnout, and make decisions.

Jennifer I.

Another option is suggested: consider changing policies or paying to allow teachers to devote time to themselves when needed.

Pay more for substitute teachers. Teachers should be able to take the weekend without guilt, and if they know the school won’t be able to find a replacement, they often pass so as not to burden their peers. I also understand that this means that states need to better fund schools.

Samuel O.

What can educators and schools do to reduce the stigma associated with both mental health and neurodiversity?

Learn about the experiences of real people with differences in learning and mental health. Listening to the views of others creates empathy, lowers stigma and helps inform about the support you provide.

Andy Kahn

Celebrating neurodiversity and normalizing that we ALL need #mentalhealth is the first step to #EndStiigma. The key is to create a learning environment that accepts different ways students appear in the classroom. The alliance has a long way to go.

Jennifer I.

To learn more about the pandemic impact on the mental health of teachers, principals and students, as well as creative ways to respond to current social and emotional challenges, see our special report.Mental health of students and staff: a way out of the COVID crisis».

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