This podcast is part of a series that highlights adjustments that can be made in the classroom to enable students with disability to access and participate in education on the same basis as their peers.
In this episode, we talk about common adjustments teachers can make in the classroom to support students who have mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. These ‘invisible’ disabilities can have a significant effect on students’ ability to learn and participate in a classroom environment. Students with mental health conditions can have fluctuating motivation and may take steps to isolate themselves from their peers. They may find it challenging to focus on tasks, may have difficulties with organisation and planning, may become overwhelmed by curriculum expectations, and may have difficulty regulating their emotions.
A parent, Mary, talks about the steps she took to help her son Jack manage the negative self-talk that came with his depression during primary school. Disability Inclusion and Wellbeing leader Linda Lavelle explains how anxiety can look like misbehaviour, with students lashing out or refusing to participate in tasks. Teacher Katelyn Sheather discusses why structure and routine are key adjustments for students with anxiety and depression. Clinical Psychologist Simon Rice explains why it is important to equip students with the skills they need to be aware that their ‘stress buckets’ are full and to communicate this to others.
Top five takeaways
Build regular break times into your daily lesson plans to give students with depression or anxiety time to process information and regulate their emotions. Anxiety, in particular, can block concentration efforts and the ability to retain new information. By building in regular brain breaks, you can help students to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Ensure that some breaks involve physical activities as this will help with excessive fatigue.
Remember that anxiety and depression may outwardly look like misbehaviour – students can be irritable, fidgety, mildly aggressive or completely defiant. Rather than disciplining students, create a calm and grounded environment to enable them to feel centred, supported and safe. You can achieve this with simple strategies, such as breathing and relaxation techniques.
Create a clear timetable and schedule board so that students know what is expected of them throughout the school day. This will take the anxiety out of transitions and help students to focus on tasks at hand. Visual timers, such as sand timers, can help students to stay on track.
If students are in a heightened state of emotion, take steps to calm them down using tactile resources such as blankets, pillows, bean bags and weighted toys. Try also using aids such as noise-cancelling headphones to help with regulating the students’ senses. Consider providing students with a low-sensory quiet space to help them manage their feelings. Ensure the low-sensory space has what the students need, because they may be more in need of social support.
Use technology such as audio recorders, sound fields and microphones to help boost the confidence of students who may be particularly anxious and fearful of public presentations.
How can I encourage active participation in classroom activities without overwhelming students?
Why is it important to build regular brain breaks into my daily routine?
What calming strategies can I incorporate into my classroom to help students regulate their emotions?
How can I incorporate assistive technology and other resources into the learning environment to help students with depression or anxiety?
What can I do when a student appears to be misbehaving?