Special Services Newsletter
Strategies to Address Emotional and Physical Needs as Staff and Students Return to School
According to the National Center for Education Statistics:
- Approximately 57 million students were enrolled in school in 2019, 51 million in public schools and 6 million in private schools.
- 7 Million or 14% received special education services in public schools
- 15% of that 7 million was identified under the category of "Other Health Impaired" based on a chronic or acute health problem.
- Approximately 3.7 million teachers in the U.S. with 3.2 million teaching in public schools and .5 million in private schools. 437,200 were identified as special educators.
When facing the realities of reopening schools, the most pressing question is how can teachers and administrators manage their own stress, emotions, and physical safety while also managing the same for their students.
Reopening schools utilizing the research-based Trauma Informed Approach creates an environment that effectively addresses staff members' and students' physical, emotional, and mental safety needs. This approach prevents the likelihood of re-traumatization or triggering situations and environments that produce reactions that are associated with the original trauma(s). This is particularly critical for individuals who are the victims of historical and/or a cultural trauma experiences. Finally, the Trauma Informed Approach builds trusting and healthy relationships.
As teachers and administrators we create safe environments, remembering that students' learning brains do not take over until their survival brain, i.e., fight, flight, freeze, is at rest and they establish trust in the adults around them. We accomplish this through maintaining predictable routines and environments at school that help reduce the chaos that a student may feel and allows them to start developing logical sequential connections. Most children have an innate ability to recognize and reciprocate authentic care and concern. If we cultivate loving kindness, it will show. That is, if needed, check in with students daily and ask them about their life, interests, fears, needs, etc.
As educators we are tasked with building social-emotional and resiliency skills in our students. We know that trauma puts our brains in survival mode and prevents our brains in engaging in higher order learning, which is how academic, social, and emotional skills develop. Reopening schools may may trigger survival brain, resulting in some challenging classroom behaviors. It is our empathy and commitment to focusing on the good in a student, while demonstrating a safe and supportive classroom environment that builds resiliency in both our students and ourselves, which yields hope, kindness, and love vs. resentment, distrust, and anxiety about the world.
We cultivate post-traumatic growth by tapping into already developed skills (e.g., problem solving, planning, frustration tolerance, self control, seeking support, etc.) lead to post-traumatic growth. When life's circumstances are out of our control, secondary control, or learning to control ones reactions to challenging circumstances, becomes the alternative. We do this by telling our story through art or journaling, etc., which helps to lessen the chaotic, disconnected thoughts and communication. It is this form of validation and optimism which fortifies our internal coping mechanisms. And despite these overwhelming circumstances, believing that we and our students and doing the best we can.
Stress produces atypical reactions to common situations that range from explosiveness and irritability to withdrawal and slow reactivity of the body. When this occurs we must learn to regulate the nervous system. This can be done through mindfulness exercises and activities that ground the student in the present moment rather than chaotic, disruptive, and/or negative thoughts. It is also helpful to give students opportunities to self-regulate by allowing scheduled and unscheduled but structured breaks.
A consistent feature of trauma is a feeling of defenselessness and a loss of power and control. A triggering situation can occur with a simple directive that offers no regard to your thoughts or feelings. It is the teachers job to use power and authority respectfully and empathetically. We must be transparent with our students about decisions for which students have no input but that those decisions must be made for safety reasons. However, when and where possible, we must offer students choice and voice by allowing input in some decisions.
On a final note, remember, self-care embodies physical and emotional safety. When school resumes, students and staff must return to the classrooms adhering to CDC and local public health and safety guidelines with intentional engagement in self-care.
Additional Counseling Services Available Through Our School Health & Wellness Program
Special Education Teacher Meeting
Tuesday, Sep. 15th, 3:30pm
What’s the difference between stress and anxiety?
There’s a fine line between stress and anxiety. Both are emotional responses, but stress is typically caused by an external trigger. The trigger can be short-term, such as a work deadline or a fight with a loved one or long-term, such as poverty, discrimination and chronic illness. People under stress experience mental and physical symptoms, such as irritability, anger, fatigue, muscle pain, digestive troubles and difficulty sleeping.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is defined by persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even in the absence of a stressor. Anxiety leads to a nearly identical set of symptoms as stress: insomnia, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, muscle tension and irritability.
Both mild stress and mild anxiety respond well to similar coping mechanisms. Physical activity, a nutritious and varied diet, and good sleep hygiene are a good starting point, but there are other coping mechanisms available.
If your stress or anxiety does not respond to these management techniques, or if you feel that either stress or anxiety are affecting your day-to-day functioning or mood, consider talking to a mental health professional who can help you understand what you are experiencing and provide you additional coping tools. For example, a psychologist can help determine whether you may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders differ from short-term feelings of anxiety in their severity and in how long they last: The anxiety typically persists for months and negatively affects mood and functioning. Some anxiety disorders, such as agoraphobia (the fear of public or open spaces), may cause the person to avoid enjoyable activities or make it difficult to keep a job.
Anxiety disorders are common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 19% of Americans over the age of 18 had an anxiety disorder in the past year, and 31% of Americans will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetimes.
One of the most common anxiety disorders is generalized anxiety disorder, which affects about 3% of adults each year. To diagnose this condition, the clinician will look for symptoms such as excessive, hard-to-control worry occurring most days over six months. The worry may jump from topic to topic. Generalized anxiety disorder is also accompanied by the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Another type of anxiety disorder is panic disorder, which is marked by sudden attacks of anxiety that may leave a person sweating, dizzy and gasping for air. Anxiety may also manifest in the form of specific phobias (such as fear of flying) or as social anxiety, which is marked by a pervasive fear of social situations.
Anxiety disorders can be treated with psychotherapy, medication or a combination of the two. One of the most widely used therapeutic approaches is cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing maladaptive thought patterns related to the anxiety. Another potential treatment is exposure therapy, which involves confronting anxiety triggers in a safe, controlled way in order to break the cycle of fear around the trigger.
For more on these anxiety disorders and their treatments, see APA’s “Beyond Worry: How Psychologists Help with Anxiety Disorders.”
For advice on how to find a mental health professional who meets your needs, visit APA’s Help Center.
Thanks to psychologists Mary Alvord, PhD, and Raquel Halfond, PhD, who assisted with this article.
National Institute of Mental Health: 5 Things You Should Know About Stress
Epidemiology and Impact of Health Care Provider-Diagnosed Anxiety and Depression Among U.S. Children, Bitsko, R. H., et. al., Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 2018
American Academy of Pediatrics: American Academy of Pediatrics Supports Childhood Sleep Guidelines
Exposure to Neighborhood Green Space and Mental Health: Evidence from the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin Beyer, K.M., et. al., International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2014.
Online Positive Affect Journaling in the Improvement of Mental Distress and Well-Being in General Medical Patients With Elevated Anxiety Symptoms: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial Smyth, J.M., et. al., JMIR Mental Health, 2018
Society of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology: Effective Child Therapy
5 ways to get your kids to wear masks
Consider it the Challenge of 2020: It's likely easier to put lipstick on a ferret than it is to get some kids to wear face coverings. The little humans pull and tug at the masks constantly. Kids don't just stop there. They let the tops fall beneath their noses and sometimes even yank the things down below their mouths, just because they can. Despite all these protests from children in countries where face coverings are new to them, masks are a must. Three simple acts can stop Covid-19 outbreaks In the United States, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all kids over the age of 2 wear face coverings to help reduce the spread of Covid-19. That means that now is the time to finally get kids on board — if you haven't already — with the new reality. We know kids around the world who already know how to wear masks — it's simply part of their routine when they leave the house.
How do you get your child there? We've asked doctors, psychologists and parents for their best strategies for getting little ones to wear face coverings and keep them on. Here are their top five suggestions.
Know your child
Every child is different, which means it behooves parents to take the time to think about how each of their children may relate to face coverings.
"It's not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing," said Jennifer Sciolla, senior director of child and family services at Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware. "You always want to make that time and space in the beginning for parents to consider their child."
Parents should ask themselves a series of questions before even trying to formulate a strategy to get kids to wear face coverings, Sciolla suggested.
Among them: What is important to my child? How does my child understand information? How aware of the outside world is my child? To what extent might a mask or the possibility of a mask give my child anxiety?
Part of the issue is age. Toddlers may be frightened to see others in masks because they lack the ability to recognize and read faces that kids develop by adolescence, research has indicated.
Another factor: a child's developmental needs.
Stephanie Ranno, whose 7-year-old daughter Emmy is on the autism spectrum, said her daughter struggles to wear face coverings for any extended period. Ranno, who lives outside of Baltimore, added that it's hard to know why her daughter dislikes the masks because she has expressive language delay, which means she can't always communicate adequately.
"Emmy is learning to interpret facial expressions for appropriate social interactions and masks make it nearly impossible for that to happen," Ranno wrote in a text message. "Our main concerns in sending her back to school center on difficulty in her ability to safely and positively interact with teachers and classmates."
Explain what's up
Parents and guardians can't simply expect little ones to understand why they should wear face coverings — moms and dads must explain it with words and concepts the kids can understand.
For preschool-age children, this might mean offering a Sesame Street version of pandemic etiquette: The virus is a bad guy, and we humans must do what we can to protect our lungs and bodies from it. For others, especially older kids, it might mean a more detailed and sophisticated rundown of public health and our individual responsibility to a greater good.
Parents can emphasize kindness to get kids to understand that wearing face coverings isn't only about them, recommended Liza Suarez, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"It's helpful to say things like, 'Face coverings reduce the chances we infect others,' and, 'If we all wear masks, we protect each other,'" said Suarez, director of the university's Pediatric Stress and Anxiety Disorders Clinic. "You can't really go wrong if you teach your child that we're all part of this world, and we need to help each other out."
Engage and involve your children
Another way to get kids excited about face coverings is to make them part of the process. This can be as simple as letting kids select their own masks or as complicated as inviting kids to sit down at the sewing machine.
For Melissa Cousino Hood, the wonder was in letting her 3-year-old pick out a face covering. The girl loves purple and jumped at the chance to choose a mask that was her favorite color. In general, kids also appreciate getting to have a say in style of the masks they wear, Cousino Hood added.
"You'd let them pick out a T-shirt," said Cousino Hood, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan's Center for Human Growth & Development. "Why wouldn't you let them pick out a face covering?"
Courtney Fitzgerald, who lives in Shawnee, Kansas, has taken the commitment to engagement one step further, getting her three children (ages 3, 5 and 10) to help make masks.
Practice, practice, practice
Once parents have sold kids on the idea of wearing face coverings, it's critical for parents to get them to embrace it. At the very minimum, this means getting children to wear the masks — and getting them to wear the masks the right way.
Parents can try having kids wear their masks in the house for short increments to feel more comfortable, Suarez, the psychiatrist, said. Cousino Hood added that another fun activity is to have kids don masks and look at themselves in the mirror to get familiar with the different permutations of "smizing," or smiling with your eyes. (She called this "medical play.")
Parents could also consider turning mask-wearing into a game, suggested Gail Robertson, a child psychologist at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.
"Because we have this association in our culture with (public health) being scary — having (face coverings) as a part of play is essential," said Robertson, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine.
"Make it for a doll. I also love having masks in the playroom and their bedroom so (kids) can play with them and investigate them. We want to make masks a part of their normal environment."
Dr. Mary Mason, an internist based in St. Louis, believes in this approach, too.
In 1999, Mason founded Little Medical School, a science and technology course provider.
Earlier this year, her company rolled out Face Covering Kits that comprise two cloth face coverings, a 6-foot tape measure, and a sheet of stickers that read BACK UP 6 FEET, I'M SOCIAL DISTANCING, MY GOOD HABIT IS WASHING MY HANDS and more.
"We don't want kids to think they need a real surgeon's mask, but we do want to make sure they understand the science," Mason said. "When you give kids facts and the science behind them, you empower them to seek the truth."
Especially with younger kids, repetition is a key to ensuring compliance with new rules. This means that as much as you don't want to nag, you may have to sound like a broken record in order for your children to take face coverings seriously and understand the gravity of the situation in the midst of a global pandemic.
The name of the game is consistency, Suarez said, noting that parents must relentlessly remind children of this rule: They simply cannot move around in the world right now without wearing a mask to protect themselves and others.
"It's like anything with parenting, really; this isn't going to happen overnight," she said. "Instead, parents need to accept that they're laying a foundation that requires gradual increments of time. Little by little, parents get the message across."
New Special Education Personnel
Lori Williams - School Psychologist
Stephanie Taylor - COTA
Trisha Slover - Special Education Teacher
Alston Brown - Special Education Teacher
Peyton Blass - Special Education Teacher
Haley Robertson - Special Education Teacher
Rachel Jones - Special Education Teacher
Heather Hale - Special Education Teacher
Tyler Scarbrough - Special Education Teacher