Reading and Writing difficulties in school

I have just returned from a short holiday in England, my home country, where I taught and worked as a psychologist and SEN Officer until 2011. I was shocked to read, while I was there, that the situation for children with reading and spelling difficulties appears to be getting worse. A blog in the Guardian newspaper, “The Secret Teacher” (24.03.18), described the scene in a Year 3 class from the point of view of a very well qualified support teacher: children with lowered self-esteem, motivation and concentration, too many children with additional needs for class teachers to have time to adapt lessons adequately and severe delays in statutory assessments.

I wasn’t very surprised: many state schools in England had similar problems when I was a teacher and psychologist. The statutory assessment system was modified by the coalition government a few years ago to embrace a wider range of needs (to include health and social care) but was also intended not to be used for straightforwardly educational problems like reading and writing. But it seems support for the bread and butter learning problems like dyslexia has not increased while statutory support has migrated to the more severe end. So a lot of children are missing out now.

England starts formal schooling at 5, and many kids whose language development is incomplete then struggle with early literacy and never catch up. Some say reading and writing difficulties cannot be described as “dyslexic” because there is inadequate evidence of a special condition. They need to demonstrate that normal teaching and learning support are enough to meet the needs of all but the most severely disabled learners. It looks as though it isn’t just the kids who are failing, it’s the schools, too. The English Children’s Commissioner has just said as much on behalf of children in some English regions. So those who care about kids learning to read and write well need to continue to advocate for the learning support needs of all dyslexic children.

 

Written by

Dr Tim Bunn
EdD, MSc, BA (Hons), PGCE
Consultant Educational Psychologist

Effects of Blue Light Technology and Impacts on Well-Being

In the day and age of the digital era today, many of us spend the majority of our waking hours staring at a digital screen be it the computer at work, our laptops at home, playing games, staring at our phones, going on social media, watching tv, carrying out activities on the iPad etc. Research propose that 60% of people spend more than 8 hours a day in front of a digital device.

Light consists of electromagnetic particles that travel in waves.  These waves produce energy and varies in strength and length. The shorter the wavelength; the higher the energy. Blue light in particular has garnered quite a fair bit of publicity in the recent years thanks to the rise in technology. Blue light can actually be found everywhere. In a natural environment like the outdoors, light from the sun travels through the atmosphere and when highly energized blue wavelengths of light collide with air molecules causing it to disperse, it is why the sky looks blue. Blue light aids in increasing attentiveness, reaction times, uplift moods, and well-being. However too much exposure to artificial sources of blue light (which is produced from digital devices) can then create the opposite effect. This in turn can cause insomnia / disrupted sleeping patterns, hyper-sensitivity / activity, headaches, eye strain, muscle aches, physical and mental fatigue which in turn correlates with stress and a negative impact on well-being.

We can decrease blue light exposure via various trajectories. Certain optical stores now provide patrons with blue lenses (with / without prescription) to decrease the glare of blue light coming from digital devices and these are helpful for individuals who are required to use the computer a lot at work; these are also helpful for children. Gunnar Computer Eyewear also produces computer / gaming eyewear for avid gamers to decrease eye strain and other negative impacts that may arise from long hours of gaming / computer / digital exposure. Apple users have a function on iPhones / iPads / iPods called the Night Shift mode that allows for its users to automatically adjust their screen to warmer colours and this also helps with migraines and headaches. There is a lot that we can do to help increase our well-being in turns of exposure to technology today.

Written by

Dr Felicia Neo
PhD (Clinical Psychology & Neuroscience)
PGDip (Clinical Psychology)
BA (Psych & Mass Communications)
Clinical Psychologist, Neuroscientist

Get outside! The therapeutic power of nature

MacRitchie Reservoir (Lonely Planet)
MacRitchie Reservoir (Lonely Planet)

If you have been to any of Singapore’s many parks or the Botanic Gardens on a weekday morning or the weekend, you’ve seen them bustling with people and families enjoying the greenery and open space.  Whether it’s jogging, tai chi, walking the dog or having a picnic, it is these green spaces people flock to.  The accessibility and use of urban oases and green spaces are therapeutic and healing.  The biologist Edward O. Wilson used the term biophilia to mean the “inherent human need to affiliate deeply and closely with the natural environment, particularly it’s living organisms” (1984). Wilson believes that biophilia is part of our emotional hard wiring and is part of our human history.  The neuroscientist James Ashbrook believed the mammallian part of our brains responsible for impulses, survival and subconscious activity has environmental roots and that human beings have an ancestral connection to bond with nature.  The human species ability to survive for 3 million years is a result of adapting and living harmoniously in nature and this innate need to connect still exists.

The field of ecotherapy, which represents therapy techniques that involve a mutual healing between the human mind and the nature in which it evolved, is growing.  This includes wilderness therapy, animal assistance therapy, horticulture therapy and equine-assisted therapy.  Research suggests that our growing disconnection from the natural world can produce symptoms of anxiety, depression and other psychological distress (Liebert, 2009).  There is evidence of the restorative role nature plays in restoring our executive functioning and promoting self-regulation and impulse control (Kaplan and Berman, 2010).  When we are on our devices, at the office or school all day and constantly stimulated by the environment around us, it can be hard to give our bodies and minds space to decompress and slow down.  This is essential for our functioning and overall well-being.

Whether it be tending to your garden, adding some plants to your home, starting a new family ritual of visiting a nature reserve on the weekend or having a cuddle with your pet, know your body  and mind will thank you.

It makes sense Singapore has been transforming into a  Garden City sinec 1963! Find out all the places you can go explore by checking out Gardens, Parks and Nature in Singapore.

Written by

Kady Leibovitz
MA Clinical Social Work
BSc Psychology
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Reference

Chalquist, C. (2009).  A look at ecotherapy research evidence. Ecopsychology, I (2), 64-74
Gass et. All (2012). Adventure Therapy: Theory, Research and Practice

 

A Secure Attachment Bond With Your Child

The developing field of infant mental health, with its emphasis on brain research and the developmental role of parents, provides a clearer understanding of the meaning of a ‘secure attachment bond.

A secure attachment bond is defined as an emotional connection formed between an infant and their primary caretaker. A landmark report, published in 2000 by The Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development, identified how crucial this attachment bond is to a child’s development. The report also mentions that secure attachment bond apparently affects the way a child develops mentally, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially. Attachments happen while caring for the baby, but the quality of the attachment bond will depend on the quality of the nonverbal and the verbal communication between the caregiver and the child. It’s not just the infants but older kids do have a need for secure attachment bond.

Obstacles to creating a secure attachment bond may happen when the caregiver is unavailable for reasons like depression anxiety, anger, grief etc. resulting in the child’s,  physical, emotional, and/or intellectual development to suffer. Often daily life distractions like cell phones, computers, social media or urgent emails may prevent a caregiver from paying full attention on the  child, resulting in missing out on opportunities to make contact and engaging in a secure attachment process. When such behaviors continue for lengths of a period, the secure attachment bond does get impacted.

Some tips for building a secure attachments, are continuing to figure out  the child’s needs using verbal and non-verbal cues such as making eye contact –to pick up on the positive emotions conveyed: tone of voice –to differentiate between loving, harsh, indifferent, or preoccupied tones: touch– to convey  emotional state like attentive, calm, disinterested or upset : body language – whether it’s relaxed, anxiuos, defensive or uninterested: pacing, timing, and intensity – pacing, timing, and intensity of your speech, movements, and facial expressions reflect the state of mind. Positive queues cues from the caregiver play a big part in defining the secure attachment bond.

Lastly, in simple words, secure attachment is an ongoing partnership between you and the child, without being a perfect parent. If one notices a disconnect, attempt a repair irrespective of the age of the child. The effort to repair will deepen the trust, increase resiliency, and build a stronger relationship.

Written by

Vinti Mittal
Director SACAC Counselling Pte Ltd
Clinical Member SAC
SAC Registered Counsellor
CMSAC, Reg, CLR, MSc (Counselling), Grad Cert. (Counselling)

Stages of Marriage

In my years of providing marital counselling, I’ve noticed that marriage is a living, dynamic relationship that can be said to have a life of its own. It is filled with ups and downs, and develops distinct personalities as it goes through different stages in its lifetime. Thus, a married couple can find themselves relating to each other in a variety of roles through the years – as friends, as lovers, as spouses, as the parent of their child, etc. Understanding the dynamics of each stage of marriage will help the couple to navigate through the joys and challenges.  The key stages of a marriage can be characterised by the 3 P’s – Pairing, Parenting and Partnership (Yeo, 1999):

The Pairing Stage

The pairing stage could well begin even before the wedding day when two individuals decide to enter into the romantic phase of the relationship. They learn about each other’s personality, discover likes and dislikes, find commonalities etc. The key adjustment the couple has to make in this stage is to transit from life as a single to life as a duo. In addition to attuning to each other, a married couple also has to learn to “make room” in their lives for their respective parent-in-laws, who will be ushered in as a part of their family.

The Parenting Stage

The parenting stage typically begins upon the arrival of the first child. What was a duo is now a trio. The key adjustment in this stage is to take on the roles of parents, in addition to their existing role as spouses. The husband relates to his wife not merely as his spouse, but also as the mother of his child, And vice versa. Parental roles and responsibilities with regards to care giving, discipline, education will now have to be ironed out. While significant portions of time and attention may now be given to the child, the couple will do well to continue spending pockets of quality time with each other to tend to their marital relationship.

For couples who do not have children, they may merge gradually from the pairing stage to the partnership stage.

The Partnership Stage

A couple transits into this stage when their children are grown up or have moved out of the household. Having spent the past many years focusing on parenting, they may have to now adjust to each other as a pair again. This is commonly known as the “empty nest” syndrome. Marital tensions that were once distracted by the tasks of parenting in the past may now surface. Especially so since the couple will now spend more time with each other. Growing together into their golden years, the couple can strengthen their partnership by pursuing hobbies, engaging in common activities and enjoying leisure time as a pair.  

References:

Yeo, A. (1999). Partners in Life. Singapore: Armour Publishing.

Written by

Justin Peter
MCS, DCS, BASW, CTRTC
Therapist