134: Helping Kids with the Impact of the Pandemic on Learning & Mental Health, with Amanda Morin

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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The COVID pandemic has been hard on almost everyone in one way or another. It has changed us, and it has certainly changed our kids. Understood.org conducted a survey to get a clearer picture of how the pandemic has impacted kids who are different learners and different thinkers, like kids with ADHD.

On this episode of the Podcast, I welcome back Amanda Morin to share some results of their study and, most importantly, how to go forward from here to help restore the mental and emotional health of our kids. Going back to school isn’t going to be easy, so parents will need to talk with their kids and make plans to ease the anxiety and stress. Listen in to find out how. 


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My Guest

Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin is a parent advocate and former teacher. She worked in classrooms and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. Since 2007, she has been working as an education writer and, more recently, as a parent advocate to empower parents and affirm the pivotal role they play in their child’s education.

During her years as an early childhood educator, she taught kindergarten and worked with infants, toddlers and preschoolers with disabilities. She provided education and training to parents of children with disabilities and led multidisciplinary teams in developing and implementing Individual Family Service Plans.

She is the author of three books: The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education, The Everything Kids’ Learning Activities Book and On-the-Go Fun for Kids: More Than 250 Activities to Keep Little Ones Busy and Happy—Anytime, Anywhere!



Amanda Morin 0:03

And I think when kids feel success, they start feeling less anxious because they're realizing I can do this is such an important thing for kids to feel. I can do this to something that we all want to feel. And it really helps us take a breath and realize, I may actually have this. I didn't think I did. But I may have this. And if I have this, what else can I get? What else can I do? Well, and that's where we want to get to.

Penny Williams 0:29

Welcome to the parenting ADHD Podcast, where I share insights and strategies on raising kids with ADHD straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author, ADHD a Holic and mindset Mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started.

Welcome back to the parenting ADHD podcast. I'm really excited to have Amanda Morin back on the podcast with us from understood.org. And we're going to talk today about a study that understood did around the pandemic, and learning and the other impacts that it's hard for kids, and how maybe you can help your kids moving forward as we try to move away from the tougher parts of the pandemic and back to some semblance of normalcy. A different normalcy, I'm sure, Amanda, thanks for being here. I always enjoy our conversations, will you start just introduce yourself to everyone who you are and what you do?

Yeah, yeah, so important. And I love understood, I love the the materials are so easy to understand for everyone. And kind of bite size information, I find it and I think that's really so helpful to share the information with others, with teachers and other people to understand our kids.

Amanda Morin 2:36

Yeah, definitely. So we wanted to understand better the specific challenges that that families and children were facing during this, what started out as a year of remote learning, and now has become, 16 months, 17 months or something like that. And we were looking to see what the impact was financially, emotionally, academically. And what we did was surveyed 1500 families. So we got a really interesting look into their houses, essentially, because they were really honest with us and gave us a perspective of what's going on. Half of those families had a child who had already been identified as having some sort of learning or thinking difference, and half of those were families whose children hadn't yet been identified. So we got a really good comparison, to see what it looked like in measuring their attitudes and actions and knowing what does it look like? What is the return to school look like? How are kids doing? What are parents worried about? And what have they noticed about their kids over this period of time? And we found, there are a lot of findings. Some of them were academics on them or financial, but I think some of the most interesting findings were about around emotional health for students and kids in this timeframe. Yeah, yeah. And parents were just so willing to talk about this in a way that was extraordinary. And I think it's going to help us understand what we do next.

Absolutely. And that's our goal is to provide those resources and tools and space and expertise. For anybody who needs it. Right. We want to make sure they were there at any critical moment in their lives, and for the people around them as well.

Penny Williams 2:48

Love it. Let's dive into the study. Do you want to tell us a little bit about the study what was done and what the results looked like?

Yeah. And I find that kids with learning differences already have a lot of struggle with emotions around school anyway. When school is really hard for you, it's already an anxiety provoking, stressful, emotional thing. And so many of our kids with learning differences, also do struggle with emotional awareness and regulation. So it's really a lot of layers there that are impacting them. And when we add the struggle that the pandemic has caused for not just learning but for connecting with others, do you think it's been one of the biggest impacts is that lack of connection I'm seeing

Amanda Morin 1:39

Sure. And it's a pleasure to talk to you today. I'm Amanda Morin. I'm the Associate Director of thought leadership and expertise at understood, and I'm a subject matter expert there. So I do a lot of work around the kinds of things that we talk about the learning and thinking differences. I'm also a mom to three kids, all three of whom have learning differences in one way or another. And I'm a former teacher. So I come at this from a multitude of perspectives, and just really understand the experience of like, like your experience Penny and the experience that the people we're talking to today to

Penny Williams 5:00

In so many ways, with so many kids just being thrown knocking them off their center entirely.

Amanda Morin 5:07

Completely. And I think, it's not just that lack of connection to right, we found that the changing, right this changing in schools and changing and how we're delivering instruction, whether you're home and whether you're not home, that's really hard on kids that we know have trouble with change anyway. And one of the things that the study raised is that the children in the families that had already had an identified learning difference, that they were like three times as likely to have more depression related to those schooling changes, and that nearly half of their parents noticed behavioral changes around that things about difficulty with lack of routine and difficulty managing emotions, like you're talking about that regulation of emotion and the inability to focus. So it's really noticeable to parents in a way that they may not have seen it before. In part, I think that's probably because they were home with their kids more. But in part, I think it's because of what you're talking about is that difficulty in really adapting to a difference in and an experience where you don't have your network of support those kids that you maybe felt camaraderie with, right felt that ability to to bond with, they weren't present. And so they, our students have been much more vulnerable. This doubled rate of extreme levels of anxiety is really an extraordinary finding.

Penny Williams 6:26

Yeah, it's, it's so huge. I mean, it's just going to be, I think, impactful for students for years to come. Yeah, it's going to take a lot of time for our kids with learning differences, ADHD, maybe autism spectrum, to get to a place where they're comfortable with school, again, where they're comfortable with, how they are learning how they are interacting with other kids, I talked to so many parents who are seeing just really different behavior from their kids. And I keep reminding them like they've had a year and a half a very little connection with others, right, they have had their world completely turned upside down with zero control over it, which we all know when you feel like you don't have any control that anxiety spikes. And they just feel like they, I think have no no purpose anymore. Almost, I, one thing that I've talked with several parents about is that, as parents, we've seen really hard times in the world. And we've seen sort of this recovery from that. And our kids who are from five to 20 years old, have not seen that they haven't experienced that in their life. And I think it makes them feel more helpless and hopeless.

Amanda Morin 7:52

Totally. I mean, and I think while we've seen what it can look like to come back from something, this is an experience that nobody's experienced before, right? This is something completely unusual. And while our children often turn to us for guidance around this, we're flying solo here, too, right? This is something completely new. And interestingly, the survey raised that too, is that parents are feeling really isolated as well. 57%, which I think is a fairly high number of parents say they feel isolated, because they're not sure how to help. And I think part of that is around, because this is not something that we have a model for, right. And so the best we can do in some circumstances is say that out loud, I think is to be able to say to our kids, this is new for all of us, there will be something that comes next, because I've seen in other situations that we can come back from things. But I think it's important to really find those examples for our kids. And even just to admit to them that this is new for us, we feel isolated, we feel stressed. And we can work through this together is a really important component of this. Because as you said before, there's this kind of new normal, and then it keeps changing. In our house, we kind of joke that it's the next normal, because it kind of phases around, right?

Penny Williams 9:10

Yeah. None of us know where we're going from here. None of us know what it looks like, because we haven't experienced anything like this before. And frankly, I never imagined such a thing, honestly, of course. So for our kids. They have to be doubling blindsided, I think or maybe not. Maybe they are more open minded about how the world is now because they haven't seen as much of it prior as we have and where we've come from. to get here today. Let's shift a little bit and talk about what parents can do now to help their kids with their mental and emotional health and then re engaging and learning I think so many of our kids with challenges, just completely shut down with learning. I know my own son did before he graduated in January. I have talked to countless other families whose kids just they don't want to get on online classes, they don't want to do the work. They just want to kind of avoid, honestly, yeah, there's just something we've dealt with with school for a long time. And I'm seeing, just in general, so many kids, I know there are some kids who online school has been great for, and they have really thrived. But a lot of them. It's the opposite. And it has been really detrimental. So what do we do as parents, we're, we're in the summer right now. So some kids and families are trying to deal with maybe some learning loss, keep their kids engaged and learning. Within a month or so month and a half, we'll be going back to school for a lot of families, what should be our focus?

Amanda Morin 10:40

Right? So I think the first thing that I would say is to take that deep breath, right and take a breath, and evaluate what's going on around you. I completely agree, we've seen kids shut down, I know, my 11 year old, he lost half of his fourth grade year, and his entire fifth grade year now is going into middle school without having had that experience. I don't know that he's lost that entire learning, but his anxiety is sky high. And as he has ADHD, he's autistic, he has his a lot going on. So his anxiety is sky high. And one of the things that we've had to stop to do is to really get a baseline of where he is emotionally, in part, because I'm a pretty anxious person, too. And so I have to realize that I have to sort out my anxiety from his anxiety and to be able to ask those questions of him. How are you feeling? Do you have concerns compared to how you were feeling before the pandemic? How do you think you feel now, I think those baselines are really important. And we can do some informal assessing as parents, but I think if your child is really shutting down, if you're really seeing significant depression and anxiety, it's a really good idea to talk to your healthcare provider, first of all, and just check in when it comes to learning. I think there are multiple choices here, right? There are parents who are looking at how do we remediate over the summer? How do we gain some of that learning back? And then there are parents who are thinking about how do I build that learning into the fun experiences of summer again? And I think in my house, that's the way we're leaning is how do you build learning into everyday experiences? so kids can be kids again, too? Yeah. And I think that's really important to realize is that that anxiety that avoidance, is showing us that they need to be re engaged in some way. So what can we find that re engages them? Is it gardening? Is it meeting with one friend? Is it having FaceTime with a friend? If you have FaceTime? Is it finding that way that they can re engage with the world, maybe a little at a time, instead of having to look at it as I have to get out there right now. And I think that's the part that's overwhelming for a lot of kids is that this is right now. And we're starting completely again, without any reentry plan, right. And so it's that reentry planning. But I think is important to think about.

Penny Williams 13:01

Yeah, I love that you use that terminology reentry plan, it does kind of feel like that is what is happening. It's crazy. And I love that you talked about teasing apart, what is our anxiety as parents, and what is our kids anxiety. This is something that kind of came up for me a couple of years ago that I never realized I was doing, I never realized that I was putting so many of my own anxieties on my kids. I have generalized anxiety and social anxiety as well. And so being really aware and mindful of how much we're doing that is super, super important, especially when we're going through something that is anxiety provoking for almost everyone anyway, right? We don't want to add to that we really need to keep our own stuff separate from what our kids are going through. And the support is super important to I'm wondering about, a lot of our kids with learning challenges will have some sort of special education caseworker or teacher or someone that they're assigned to during school time. And I'm wondering about reaching out to them just before school starts and maybe working on a plan together for that reentry. And yeah, what that looks like, for my own son, we always met with a special ed teacher. During the meet the teacher, which was usually a day or two ahead of time, we made sure to find that person get introduced, and make sure that my son knew that that was his person. If anything was overwhelming, if he was anxious, whatever was happening, he was to go find that person. Right. That was his kind of safety net. Right. And I think that that can be super helpful now to for kids as we reenter, to know that they have someone and to have a plan. A plan is so helpful when you have anxiety.

Amanda Morin 14:49

Absolutely. And I think that this year in particular, it's going to be really important to engage the people who are part of the plan before, so the previous case manager, the previous teacher that your child felt connected with, how can they bridge that relationship to the new one for your child, I think is really an important component of this as well. Because they had that person before, what they need to do is to be able to help transfer that relationship over. And some of that's being done over the summer for some kids, because there's been as you, I think, you probably know, there's been some really good federal funding coming down for summer programs. And so some school districts are actually continuing learning over the summer, and whether or not you talk to your school district and decide that's something you want to do with your child, it gives you access to the teachers in a way that maybe wasn't there before. So to be able to start planning over the summer, and start thinking about, how do we introduce each other to each other, right? How do we all and I think the other piece that I really want to make sure that people understand is your child's not the only one feeling this way, regardless of whether they have learning challenges. We're all jumping into the world anew. And I think to let kids know that they're not the only one. So this is going to be hard for everyone, it may be a little bit harder for them. But it's going to be hard for everyone and then give them some of the skills to like really believe that the resilient and I think when I use that word, I want to be really careful and not say like everybody can bounce back. Because I'm not talking about bouncing back. I'm talking about the ability to persevere. And I think our kids don't always remember or know how much they're able to persevere. So to point that out as they do it in those incremental steps, like, what you see is a really good job of realizing it's okay, that so and so isn't wearing a mask, because they're fully vaccinated. And you are okay with that. That's like a little step in persevering, right, in adjusting to change. And those are the kinds of things that matter.

Penny Williams 16:50

Yeah, so much. And I love that it's just the little things like just a conversation about whether or not someone's wearing a mask and how to get okay with it or, to be sort of settled with that the way that that's panning out right now, especially in my daughter who's in college is having a hard time with that she feels like, it's super strange not to wear a mask now, even though she's vaccinated. And she's really struggling with like that just that transition as a 20. Something can be hard to imagine what it's like for our younger kids and our kids with even more anxiety. One thing I wanted to mention is that summer is a great time for our kids to feel some successes, because feeling some successes will make them feel more capable of walking into these challenges that they're going to have to go through these transitions. And those can be super small, they don't have to be around learning. It can really be anything. If your kid brushes their teeth tomorrow morning without you asking first. It's a success, right? Notice that be completely hated about it. That noticing is such a big deal for our kids mental health. And those successes are wiring the brain for more positivity and more successes, like it's not just from their mental health, but it actually biologically sets them up for more of that, which is amazing. And that's really it is so powerful.

Amanda Morin 18:17

It is and it's so funny that you use the word notice not funny, because you use it. But funny because that's one of the things I understood that orc is doing this year is we're relaunching our take note initiative, and take note is an is notice in the note. So it's notice, observe, talk and engage. And that first component that and is notice, notice what's going on. So you can start observing where it happens, talking about it, and then engaging with your child. And so I love that you use the word notice, because it's really important that we don't take those things for granted, it's really important that we are able to look not just at the challenges, but at the successes as well. And I love your example of just brushing the teeth without being asked. It's a perfect example. There are things that our kids don't even think about as successes. And maybe we as parents don't either, my son this morning, he had his computer booted up and ready to get on to his remote class. Without me asking. Yeah, and I'm realizing now that I don't think I said anything about that. And I'm gonna have to go back after the fact. And and, and say, that was great. That was really something I didn't have to do that for the first time in many, many weeks. Yeah. So you just reminded me I need to do that, too, is been noticing some of these things as well.

Penny Williams 19:35

And I think that's the big thing is that so many things that are pretty big for our kids. We don't take notice of we take it for granted because most 15 year olds should write which is a word that's a red flag for us as parents of neuro atypical kids should be able to brush their teeth every day without being asked right and so we tend to take these kind of things for granted, and we don't notice that, hey, they're finally, like, kicking in with this thing. And it's happening today. And it's so valuable. And that noticing of that and saying something of something, just like brushing your teeth without being asked. It triggers something for them, that makes them much more likely to be able to repeat, right? That behavior. Right? Right. And that can translate into learning and school and transition,

Amanda Morin 20:29

I was just gonna say the same thing that's really interesting. I think we're on the same wavelength there. It does translate, it does translate, because what you're talking about is like the beginning of remembering how to have a routine. And in the survey that we did 40% of parents saying that they noticed their kids really have a lack of routine, that's half of half of the kids, right, half of them have lost the routine. So getting back into a routine is going to be so important. I mean, your summer routine is going to be a little different than your school routine. But having one matters, and right, it matters so much. And whether it's something that you work with your child to write down so they know what their routine is, whether it's something that they talk through with you, whether it's something you have to remind them and the day you don't have to remind them you're celebrating is really important to start getting that back. And I think when kids feel success, they start feeling less anxious, because they're realizing I can do this is such an important thing for kids to feel I can do this as something that we all want to feel. And it really helps us take a breath and realize, I may actually have this, I didn't think I did. But I may have this. And if I have this, what else can I get? What else can I do? Well, and that's where we want to get to is, once it's baby steps, it's that I can do this, which means I think I can do this, which means I think I can do this. And we sort of build our kids out of that anxiety, success by success by success.

Penny Williams 21:56

And that translates into learning to, if they're feeling confident and competent in other areas that can move into learning in school, that can move into social interactions that are maybe going to be more awkward and anxiety provoking starting out. It's so so valuable for kids to just have successes. And I really appreciate that you brought up baby steps. Because I think it's so important in transition for parents to understand that we just need to take these tiny incremental steps forward, we're not going to go from really hard to, oh, nothing happened. It's great. I'm good. I'm going for it. Right. Right, right.

Amanda Morin 22:38

And to remember that the world has been different for a year and a half now. And that going back isn't going to be easy is I think, a really big thing for both parents and kids. And to be able to say, I know you're stressed, I know you don't want to go back to school, I know you're worried about how much you might be behind. I think that's that's a valuable thing to be able to say. And then also, I think as we start building those relationships with the teachers and the case managers, and the people who are just around our kids, when they go back to school, start talking about how we're actually literally going to look at their skills, instead of just guessing. Right. To me, that's the place that I actually feel really strongly about is making sure we're not just assuming that kids have lost skills, that we're really figuring out ways to check in on that. How are we assessing them to see where they are now. And by assessing I don't mean tests, right? I mean, looking at those skills, and having them, demonstrate them and show what they're able to do and where they might need a little support. So we can actually see what baby steps we need to take to get them back to where we want them to feel confident and able to move forward a little bit. Yeah.

Penny Williams 23:52

Let's talk for a minute about mental health, emotional health support at school. I think it's important for parents and kids to know that there are supports for that kind of thing in the school system, and that there are people at school that they can talk to you. And I just wanted to talk about that for a minute. Because I think a lot of kids are going to need that. And maybe some families don't have access to private therapy and can get some support in the school in that way or ever again, have somebody at school that they know they can go to if they're really struggling in that area.

Amanda Morin 24:27

I think that's such a perfect thing to think about to mean a lot of school districts are thinking about how do we support kids socially and emotionally as they go back into school. And I mean, the teachers is a starting point. But there are also social workers within schools. There are guidance counselors, there are school psychologists, there are other mental health professionals and I think if you are really wondering, who can you talk to start by asking those questions who's available to support my child? And how do they know my child already and if they don't

How can we start building a relationship. And sometimes it's a matter of just like, starting slowly and just saying, this is so and so this is what they do for work. And they're there, if you want to pop in and say I'm having a really tough day, I'm feeling really anxious, I'm feeling really down. Because while some kids already have those relationships, other kids may not, and they need to start building them. And as parents, we can facilitate that by modeling it and saying, I'm going to go in and talk to the guidance counselor or the social worker, would you like to come with me, and we can meet them together? Those kinds of things are really important. And I know that schools are definitely thinking about this on a bigger level. But I think, especially for kids who may already have individualized education programs, or 504 plans, it really is a good idea to sit down with the team, and talk about how we're building that into their support plants. What are we adding to make sure that we are setting them up for emotional success and not just academic success?

Penny Williams 26:04

Yeah, and I like the idea of really establishing a connection there a relationship, maybe before your child is having such a hard time that they need that person right away, right. So they're building this rapport with them so that they know they can trust them, they know they can go to them, I think is so valuable, we have leaned on school guidance counselors, at many different times in the last, 1314 years in school, and has been super helpful, especially socially. And I think that, we haven't talked a lot about that social piece of it. But for kids with ADHD, autism spectrum, even learning disabilities, sometimes can really, really struggle with social interaction. And so they're already thinking, it's super hard and awkward, and they're worried about it. And then adding this next level of not having practiced it for a year and a half, right is going to be sort of, it's going to shut down a lot of kids, I think, I think we're gonna see a lot of kids, at recess retreating to the corner on the playground by themselves and just not putting themselves out there. But if they know that they have someone they can go to, and they can talk about those things. And they can really lean on them with something big comes up, and they're really uncomfortable and struggling, is huge, huge.

Amanda Morin 27:27

And you make such a good point about introducing them ahead of time before it gets to an intervention component. Because we want our kids to realize that these people can support them. And they're not just there for when things go wrong, right, that they're there to hear the good things that they're there to talk through things that that kids are having trouble with. And as parents over the summer, we can start talking about those things. And like, preparing kids and having roleplay conversations, but knowing that there's somebody to go to, to talk through these things ahead of time is so important, because you don't want somebody who just comes in and feels like a crisis supporter, right. Because they want to feel successful from the outset. And knowing that there's somebody there, guidance counselors have just been such a support in our family as well, as well, as case managers, we've had some really great relationships and and even, My son, who graduated around the same time your son did, during this pandemic, had a relationship with the, really good friendship with one of his teachers, who was the person he could go to and talk to, even after he wasn't in this class anymore. For four years of high school, this was his go to teacher. And he could just go to him and say, I don't understand what just happened in this class here. I'm not sure what this interaction means. I don't know if I did it. Well, I don't know if I said something wrong. And that teacher was able to really help him through it. So I wouldn't undervalue the support of that one person that your child really feels connected to. Because teachers, they go into teaching because they want to be around and support and help students. And when they build that relationship, sometimes it's just that one person who makes the difference. And for parents, I think that's a comforting thing. Because we can't always be that one person.

Penny Williams 29:17

All it takes is one caring adult. Yeah, which is Josh ships. phrase, but right has stuck with me over the years. All it takes is one caring adult doesn't have to be the guidance counselor. It doesn't have to be a special ed teacher. It could be a teacher, it could be a cafeteria worker, it could be a school janitor, anybody that your kid connects with, and will celebrate successes with them that also support them when things are hard. That's what they need. That's gold.

Amanda Morin 29:47

Absolutely. Absolutely. And then those 47% of kids who are avoiding going to school, maybe that's going to come down considerably. That one caring adult will make them want to get up in the morning and go to school. And that's what we can hope for.

Penny Williams 30:01

Yes, I think that's a great place to wrap up too. I again, so always appreciate talking to you, Amanda and having you on the podcast and our summit's and such valuable information that you're always sharing. And of course I'm always sharing understood.org to because it is such a huge valuable resource for parents like us who are raising neurodiverse children and I encourage everyone to definitely go to understood.org we will put that in the show notes, as well as some other links to the study if you want to read more about the study and and the results of that as well. in the show notes for this episode will be at parentingADHDandautism.com/134 for Episode 134. Thanks again, Amanda. Thank you Take care. You too. Will end the episode now and I'll see everyone next time.

Thanks for joining me on the parenting ADHD podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses, parent coaching and Mama retreats at parentingADHDandautism.com

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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I'm Penny Williams.

I help stuck and struggling parents (educators, too) make the pivots necessary to unlock success and joy for neurodivergent kids and teens, themselves, and their families. I'm honored to be part of your journey!

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