Mar 2, 2021
Oftentimes social-emotional factors impact learning in a big way. As our guest today points out, social-emotional issues such as anxiety and depression can mimic a learning difficulty or could even coexist with one. So how do we know if a student is struggling with a social-emotional difficulty or something else? And just as importantly, how can we help them?
Today’s guest is Dr. Nicole Michaeli. Nicole is a clinical psychologist and associate at West LA Neuropsychology. She conducts comprehensive psychoeducational evaluations of children and emerging adults, and she has developed her specialization in assessment through her extensive training in the public sector as well as in private practice. Since 2014, Dr. Michaeli has worked in private practice, helping children with neurocognitive and social-emotional difficulties including learning differences, attention and executive functioning deficits, emotional challenges, and developmental delays. Dr. Michaeli also provides parent and educator workshops on various topics within child development.
In today’s episode, Dr. Michaeli helps us understand the differences between anxiety and depression and how they impact learning in a vicious cycle. She guides us through assessments and possible treatment for those struggling with anxiety and depression and gives parents some great tips to help support their children.
[2:37] - Social-emotional issues often occur with processing issues and that is why it is so important to be able to identify those issues that could be exacerbating learning challenges.
[3:07] - Social-emotional issues like anxiety and depression may look like and mimic problems with learning.
[4:24] - Depression and anxiety can impact so many other processes than just mood. Dr. Michaeli explains how children who are anxious have difficulty with concentration.
[6:18] - Nicole also explains that anxiety impacts other brain functions and our efficiency with the tasks we need to perform. The first skill she addresses is working memory and she describes why this is important.
[7:14] - Dr. Wilson agrees and sees this often in her practice. She shares that she’ll often see a student who is very bright and has great working memory but when they become anxious, that skill is interfered with.
[7:56] - Processing speed refers to how quickly and efficiently a student can perform a specific task. When anxious, children often take much longer to perform tasks and it becomes much more taxing on them.
[8:53] - Dr. Wilson points out that this becomes a vicious cycle. The anxiety causes the student to become slower and running out of time makes them more anxious.
[10:13] - Dr. Michaeli explains that it is important to know the difference between normal worries and when there is cause for real concern. Anxiety is normal but what separates normal anxiety from abnormal anxiety is excessiveness.
[11:35] - Because students with high levels of anxiety carry the worry with them all day, they are often very fatigued. They also could have difficulty sleeping.
[12:12] - If you are too anxious to sleep, that impacts attentiveness, behavior, mood, and overall learning during normal waking hours.
[13:11] - A common topic of discussion is the impact depression has on social skills and interaction. Dr. Michaeli shares that a less touched-on subject is the impact anxiety has on social relationships.
[14:24] - Kids who are anxious often don’t make enough time for social and pleasurable activities. They tend to spend a lot of time on homework and responsibilities.
[15:44] - Dr. Michaeli describes how social-emotional issues are assessed and identified. There are different measures used depending on the student and the best way to understand the child.
[17:36] - It is not enough for Dr. Michaeli to only receive forms from parents and teachers. She says that it is very important for her to speak directly with the teachers as well as they can describe in detail their observations.
[19:06] - Using reports and observations, it is important to know what normal levels of anxiety look like for different ages of children.
[20:56] - A lot of children and adolescents also develop an awareness of their anxious behaviors and tend to mask them.
[22:04] - Many issues co-exist with anxiety and Dr. Michaeli describes how these other issues could increase anxiety levels.
[22:57] - The most effective treatment for comorbid anxiety and learning issues in Nicole’s experience is a combination of therapy and medication.
[23:46] - One of the first treatments of anxiety and depression that Dr. Michaeli looks at regarding anxiety and depression is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She describes the model of this approach.
[24:54] - Another important element is to see what kind of support can be provided in the school environment.
[26:14] - It is valuable for teachers to know what the child is experiencing and when anxiety or depression is identified and being treated. A lot of times, anxious behavior can be mislabeled.
[28:02] - Children struggling with depression tend to have maladaptive or unrealistic thoughts that maintain the depressive mood.
[29:09] - Similar to anxiety, depression also interferes with a lot of necessary brain functions and tasks students need to perform when learning.
[29:53] - Often seen in children with depression is a low level of self worth in learning which does not match their actual abilities.
[31:52] - There are a lot of things parents can do to support their child and it begins with parent education. Parents need to be provided resources so they can understand what their child is struggling with.
[32:31] - Dr. Michaeli also says that it can be helpful, depending on the child’s treatment, that parents sit in and participate in the therapy.
[33:05] - Sleep also needs to be prioritized and screen time needs to be monitored.
[34:46] - Once assessments are completed, targeted intervention and treatment can begin. Anxiety and depression can mimic learning disabilities or can coexist with them. Identification is the first step.
Dr. Nicole Michaeli is a clinical psychologist and associate at West LA Neuropsychology. She conducts comprehensive psychoeducational evaluations of children and emerging adults, and she has developed her specialization in assessment through her extensive training in the public sector as well as in private practice. Since 2014, Dr. Michaeli has worked in private practice, helping children with neurocognitive and social-emotional difficulties including learning differences, attention and executive functioning deficits, emotional challenges, and developmental delays. Dr. Michaeli also provides parent and educator workshops on various topics within child development.
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