Learning Disabilities & Mental Health
Dr. Jill Shuster, psychologist with The Possibilities Clinic and the Toronto District School Board, Hayley Stinson, educator and therapist with Integra, and Sana Imran, child and family therapist with the Sick Kids Centre for Community Mental Health, led a professional development workshop for Linden faculty this August.
By Ruthie Szamosi, Guidance and Learning Counsellor
Linden provides a supportive environment and small classes that allow faculty and staff the room to guide and foster student mental and emotional well-being within an academic setting. This year, as part of our annual August professional development week, Linden faculty and staff were fortunate to have three mental health professionals lead a panel discussion about supporting students with anxiety.
Sana Imran, a child and family therapist with the Sick Kids Centre for Community Mental Health, Hayley Stinson, an educator and therapist with Integra, and Dr. Jill Shuster, a psychologist with The Possibilities Clinic and the Toronto District School Board, shared tips and strategies we can use to create and maintain an inclusive environment for students who have anxiety.
After the panel discussion, we had a lively question and answer session where we were able to build upon the strategies we are already using and deepen our understanding of what anxiety is and how it can affect children and adolescents. This session was both informative and thought provoking, and we are grateful to Sana, Hayley, and Jill for coming in and sharing their expertise with us.
How Common are Learning Disabilities?
Learning Disabilities are very common and affect 5% to 10% of Canadians. Learning Disabilities are the largest category of education exceptionalities in Ontario: 43% of students in Ontario who have been identified with education exceptionalities have Learning Disabilities.
What are Learning Disabilities?
Learning Disabilities are a group of neurological or brain-based problems that affect one or more ways that a person takes in, stores or uses information (LDAO, 2002). By definition, persons with Learning Disabilities are smart and can learn: they have specific challenges in one or more areas of learning. Learning Disabilities are lifelong conditions that affect people differently depending on the situation.
The Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario defines Learning Disabilities as:
“A variety of disorders that affect the acquisition, retention, understanding, organisation or use of verbal and/or non-verbal information. These disorders result from impairments in one or more psychological processes related to learning, in combination with otherwise average abilities essential for thinking and reasoning. Learning disabilities are specific, not global impairments and as such are distinct from intellectual disabilities.” Source: www.ldao.ca
The Relationship between Learning Disabilities and Mental Health
What is Mental Health?
Mental health is part of our overall health and includes:
- How we feel, think, and behave
- How we cope with the ups and downs of everyday life
- How we feel about ourselves and our life
- How we see ourselves and our future
- How we manage stress and its impact
- How we manage the negative things that can happen in life
- Self-esteem or confidence
The relationship between Learning Disabilities and Mental Health is complex. Persons with Learning Disabilities (LDs) have unique patterns of processing information and individual learning styles. Moreover, these learning styles change with development, and the impact of Learning Disabilities varies as a child grows and develops. It can be hard to ‘show what you know’ when you have LDs, and sometimes it can be hard to make sense of certain things, such as social interactions. In response to the challenges of having LDs, children and youth often experience social and emotional stresses, including feelings of frustration, worry, or loneliness.
Being able to understand strengths, challenges and behaviours from the dual lenses of LD and MH provides adults who work with these children and youth with a greater repertoire of strategies and tools to support good mental health and wellbeing.