Category: Learning Tools

“Uniquely Wired But Still Totally Awesome”

“Uniquely Wired But Still Totally Awesome”

Liv Daly is a student in coaching in Connections in Mind and was invited to present at Thomas’s Clapham as part of their neuro-diversity awareness week. Liv gave an impressive presentation about her experiences of living with diagnosis Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, mild hemiparesis, her challenges and strengths.

Liv shared that it was really difficult for her to understand her diagnosis of Asperger’s at the age of 11 and she thought it was a disease. This is a really poignant reflection on how challenging it can be for children and families to understand diagnosis. Liv went on to share that she can struggle with social interactions, keeping focus and organising, and this affects her at home and in the classroom. She has done so many wonderful things, such as singing on Autism’s got Talent, a kids fashion show (that Melanie Sykes was involved in) that raised c. £10,0000, she loves to bake healthy foods and she wrote a book “Flours in my Hair” which was sold for charity and raised £20,000 for a paediatric hospital in Jerusalem

Liv has a really supportive family and a good network around her and she has found the support from her teaching assistant invaluable as well as coaching from Connections in Mind. Liv has mastered organisational skills, and is developing her skills in social interactions. She has found reducing her sugar intake and maintaining a balance lifestyle and diet to have been a game changer for her. She is feeling more focus, organised and on top of things. She is planning to study genetics at University- so she is incredibly smart too!

Liv is a passionate, positive and is proud of who she is and her accomplishments. She is an excellent example of living beyond a ‘diagnosis’ and finding coping strategies that work for her. It has been such a pleasure to work with Liv in coaching in Connections in Mind and thank you Liv for doing such a great job of raising awareness to Year 7’s and 8’s at Thomas’s. We think this could be the first of many public appearances to come

What are the key messages that you wanted students to take away from the presentation?

– That a diagnosis is helpful because it puts things in perspective and makes you realise that you are the way you are because of factors beyond your control. It also helps you realise if you try hard enough you can overcome the difficulties you face;

– Coaching has helped appreciate the behaviours that are unacceptable and to learn to manage them

– A key take home message is to accept who you are and the difficulties you face and to be proud of yourself and your achievements and to regard these difficulties as challenges you can overcome and to remain positive.

How has EF coaching helped you?

Coaching with Rose has definitely helped me with my continued organisation of my school work; somehow I managed to stay organised ish for my GCSEs, but after that it just snowballed and went downhill. I have now organised almost an entire years worth of stuff for 3 subjects (6 sub-subjects) in time for my predicted grade exams in two weeks (first week of June), which is extremely impressive, given that before my GCSEs (and after, before Rose came along) looked like a massive brain dump! Also, Rose is trying to get me to become more independent (like being able to go get a blueberry muffin from Starbucks on my own) and to socialise with people outside of school more (although I’m pretty sure that’s mostly procrastination, as well as a teeny bit of a fear of rejection/worries about how they’d ‘deal’ with me if I freaked out and had a bit of a meltdown in public. At least my parents know how to deal with that. My friends, not so much).

My Experience at the Essex Inclusion Conference

My Experience at the Essex Inclusion Conference

My name is Alise Lewis. This is my first time writing a blog, so this is a challenge for me. I have just finished my undergraduate psychology degree, waiting for my grades in the summer (hopefully a 2:1, fingers crossed). In the future I am hoping to become an educational psychologist, because I have a passion for making sure that every child is able to reach their full potential, giving back to the community and helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds is of real importance to me.

As this is my final year at university I was searching for jobs in September or volunteering work. I came across Connections in Mind on Indeed and I have been an intern at Connections in Mind since March. Yesterday whilst conducting my work, Imogen asked me if I wanted to come to a conference in Essex, on Inclusion. I was slightly anxious because I did not know what to expect because I have never been to a conference before. But I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to understand more about executive functions and inclusion in schools. I woke up at 7:45, which is very early for me (bearing in mind that I am a student who loves to sleep and takes regular naps throughout the day like a baby!). I drove from my house in Chadwell Heath to Pitsea on the A12. I was unaware of the speed limit so I kept driving really slow. I thought the sun kept shining in my eyes but cars kept flashing me because I was driving so slow. After my slow driving, I arrived at the event. I met Tanya and Richard who both work as coaches at Connections in Mind.

My job today was a social media correspondent for the event, so I was live tweeting, taking photos and making notes. Being a millennial you would think that this would be an easy job for me. But I am one of the few millennials that does not use social media (yes we do exist).

The first talk was from Peter Tatchell on ‘How to Change the World’. His main points was that education plays a big part in reducing hate crime on the streets and bullying in schools. He emphasises the point that no child is born a bigot and that parents and role models around the children introduce bigotry into children.

The next talk was from Maria Tspali on ‘how to change the classroom’. She mentioned the benefits of play in the classroom, which improves literacy skills. Her main point was that teachers should incorporate the mixed approach of direction instruction (traditional approach) and discovery learning (constructivist approach) in the classroom known as inquiry learning. Surprisingly, I knew what Maria was talking about during her presentation because I took the educational psychology module at university (finally my university education taught me something useful). It was good to see the theory I learnt being put into practice.

Personally, psychology at university is very theory based, the only practical I conducted at university was a brain dissection during my second year, which I hated by the way. Therefore, coming to the conference enabled me to see how they put psychological theories of education into the classroom and education system. Connections in Mind conducted a workshop on how executive functions are important in the classroom not just for special educational needs students but for all types of students, for example those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, students with attachment disorders and even neurotypical students.

The next three speakers were inspirational speakers talking about what inspired them throughout their careers. One of the speakers called Louise Hodgson Clark was an excellent orator and really stood out to me. Louise Hodgson Clark is a PE teacher from Canvey Island from a dual heritage background. She spoke about being the only black female in her home town and how her school used to unconsciously exclude her and that teachers should be mindful of that. The reason why she stood out to me because she is a black powerful female, who had such a strong presence. Being a black female myself, it was nice to see her talk so strongly and passionately about teaching and her experience. Being an BME (black ethnic minority) in this country is quite hard. Although I have never experienced any of that hardship in my 21 years of living. But the field of psychology is predominantly white middle-class males and I am the complete opposite of that. So, who knows if I will experience unconscious bias in my future. Hopefully not because I would like to view England as being a diverse and accepting country.

Suzy Stride another speaker, who is a Labour MP also spoke about being from the East End and going to Cambridge University and working in Parliament where she stated that ‘there was no black people, working class people and normal people’, which I found quite funny at the time. But when you process what Suzy said, it is reality for some of people in society, females, BMEs, working class and many others. The last speaker was Louise Clarkson from the mental health charity ‘Mind’, she spoke about the importance of mental health in education as it improves in inclusion in schools (another thing I learnt at university). Overall, I had a really good day it was good to learn about inclusion in schools and more about what they do at Connections in Mind. Hopefully you enjoyed reading my blog, be nice it’s my first time

Alise Krystal Lewis

Why are executive functions important in the 21st Century?

Why are executive functions important in the 21st Century?

    

Consider these two working environments?

At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking not a huge amount has changed in almost 80 years.

That is until you think about the tasks which are being completed and the skills required to complete them……. 

In 1940s these typists are simply typing the written words – what executive functions would they need? Sustained attention to keep on task, certainly; definitely working memory, to hold the written words in their head long enough to type them; maybe organisation, to keep their desk tidy and time management to turn up on time, but little more than that.  Fast forward almost 80 years what skills are needed in a 21st century office?  Yes, sustained attention and working memory are still key, but no doubt these employees will be also valued on their ability to meet deadlines (goal directed persistence and time management), plan their day and prioritise what to work on first (planning and prioritisation), get along with colleagues (response inhibition, flexibility  and emotional control), self-reflection and self appraisal (metacognition). In fact a 21st century employee’s executive functions will determine how good they are at their job and if they are promoted, therefore in-turn affecting their earnings and their quality of life.

Moreover, executive functions are not just valued in 21st century work places, they are covertly examined through the education system in public exams.  Take History A Level for example; it is not just how much you know about History which will get you an A*.  It is your ability to revise (which requires all executive functions). Your ability to prioritise (planning and prioritisation) the knowledge you have into a well structured essay (organisation), from a choice of topics (flexibility), under timed conditions (emotional control, response inhibition, time management). I have seen time and time again students, who excel at their subject verbally, struggling to get above a C grade because of poor executive functions. This would not be an concern were these skills being taught to students, but they are not; there lies the paradox. How can we test students on skills we are not explicitly helping them to develop?

Indeed, the requirement for executive functions is not unique to 21st century adolescents and adults, even primary school children and pre-schoolers are required to have good executive functions. Think about the pupil who is always in trouble for not paying attention in class (sustained attention), for talking out of turn (response inhibition), not moving on to the next task, (flexibility, task initiation) getting into fights (emotional control); how will their first experiences of education affect their learning on going? Are we doing enough to support these children?  Adele Diamond focuses her research in this area and has learned that in order to ensure academic success, it is more important to teach pre-schoolers executive functioning and problem-solving skills than to simply focus on math and reading alone. We are very excited to welcome her as our key-note speaker for our Summit on the 14th of June.

Mrs Victoria Bagnall – PGCE, MA (Cantab)
Director and Co-Founder of Connections in Mind

Join us on the 14th of June to hear from Adele Diamond about her research, and to discuss and learn from like minded people about what we can do to help develop executive functions in 21st century homes and schools.

14th June 2pm to 5.30pm
Foundling Museum, London.  WC1N 1AZ

Places are limited – book your ticket now.

Effective Break Taking

Effective Break Taking

It is commonly agreed that taking a break increases efficiency and productivity in all tasks.  Revision is one such task where we generally understand that taking breaks can be helpful, but what should those breaks look like,  how often and for how long should we take them and which activities are most restorative?

How long should we expect children to concentrate for?

It is generally understood that an adult’s optimal concentration decreases after 90 minutes, but for children especially those with executive function challenges this can be much shorter. Teachers are trained to never have any classroom activity last for more than 20 minutes.  As a rule of thumb, most parents are taught that children should only be expected to concentrate for as many minutes as they are years old and this can be a helpful tool to manage expectations. I personally do not expect my students under 13 to concentrate on one task for more than 10 minutes, with some older students or those on medication sometimes being able to concentrate for a maximum of 20 minutes on one task.

So should I give my child a break every 10 minutes?

Not at all, shifting to another task allows a child to shift focus and start a new concentration period.  For children under 13, I suggest 4 x 10 minute activities followed by a break.  For older children, 4 x 20 minutes is plenty in one sitting.  Back in 1953, Nathaniel Kleitman – physiologist the university of Chicago discovered that the body worked in Ultradian rhythms of 90 minutes, in my view this understanding still stands and is an excellent reason for adults and older children to keep revision sessions to around 90 minutes before having a break.  All this said, each child is different so talk to your child, be prepared to try out different strategies and work out with them what rhythm of revision works best for them.

How long should I allow for a break?

This depends on how long it takes for them to feel restored. Most schools recommend 10 – 15 minute breaks, with a longer break for lunch. Nathaniel Kleitman recommended 20 minute breaks. Experiment with different lengths of breaks until you find a time at when your child is refreshed and able return to work ready to start again.

What are the most restorative activities to do during a break?

These days most of us gravitate towards social media during our breaks. Whilst connecting with our peer group and family can be restorative, it is often better done face to face if possible. Exercise is often heralded an excellent restorative activity; in a recent study at Princeton University they found that exercise releases the neurotransmitter GABA, which has a calming effect on the brain. Being with nature can also be important, indeed a recent paper in the Journal for Attention Disorders offered proof that a walk in the park was more restorative for children with attention deficits than a walk in any other environment. Other restorative activities include short naps, or short periods of meditation – I find the OMM app for one minute meditation an excellent resource.

So…….

We advise you to break revision down into small chunks, liaise with your child to help them workout their own concentration/productivity rhythm, and encourage them to take regular breaks of about 20 minutes: a walk in the park or the countryside has been proved to be the most effective activity to do on a break.

Mrs Victoria Bagnall, MA (Cantab), PGCE.

How to support and stay connected with your child while they are revising

How to support and stay connected with your child while they are revising

Parents want to do their best to support their children at all times, particularly during exam times, but it can be hard to know what and how much to do, especially when they can be grumpy and rude. There are some key things to remember and top tips here.

  1. Scaffold the young person’s life – this may well be happening anyway, but making sure that the structures and scaffolds of family life are securely in place during this time is important. This means having clear bedtimes, meal times, periods of quiet for studying etc. Routines make children feel safe and secure but supporting the brain and body with regularity is also going to be really helpful at this time. So now is not the time to have house parties, be absent as a parent or suggest all night box-set binges!
  2. Communication: Think carefully about what you say and how you say things to the young person. For example, try to make sure you always ask how the child is generally and focus on things they value before asking “what are you going to revise today?”. Use open-ended questions (“do you have a plan for how you are going to spend your day?”) rather than closed-ended questions (“are you going to do any revision today or just sit on your phone all day?”, with sarcasm). Show empathy for their situation (“it must be hard to have to work during your holiday period”) rather than disdain (“everyone else in the world does this too, you are not so special”).
  3. Watch your own emotions: we all want our children to do as well as they can in exams, particularly national exams, when stakes are high. This can raise our own emotions as we feel increasingly anxious about how they will do and frustrated by them not always seeming to do their best. We need to take time out when feeling overwhelmed and not pass on our anxiety or irritation to the young person as this will not help them. Be aware of your own bodily sensations and practice self-regulation and taking time out when feeling stressed. Notice thoughts you have that trigger feelings of stress (“he’s never going to get the right grades at this rate and then won’t get a good job and will end up homeless”). This is time when we can tend to catastrophize and over-generalise. Despite our desire to act when our children are stressed, what we really need to do is be truly responsive and listen to what they need. The more you are able to tune into how they are feeling, the more connected they will feel to you which they need more than ever right now. If a child feels like you are sensitive to their needs they are also more likely to be responsive to your advice.

 

Most importantly, remember that the results of these exams will not be the only determinant of the child’s success in life. Every child and young person will learn and grow just from taking part in the exams and offering an open space for reflection whatever the outcome is what counts.

 

Bettina Hohnen, Clinical Psychologist

April 2017

X