Reaching students’ emotional disturbances- Lori Desautels

Dr. Lori Desautels, an experienced educator, gives four suggestions for helping pupils who have experienced emotional trauma. She says that–

The phrase “emotional disturbance” is used under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to describe substantial issues in a student’s conduct and mental health. We can generally trace a developmental history for children with emotional disturbances where attachment and connection to an emotionally healthy caregiver were broken early in development or a significant traumatic event created a survival brain state that has persisted throughout his or her early life. These young individuals are always in a condition of fear.


The good news is that young kids are born with the ability to overcome hardship. Helping kids understand how negative emotions disrupt our learning can help you establish a secure and connected atmosphere. I’m now working with a group of young teenagers, many of whom have serious emotional and behavioral issues. We design class norms, procedures, and engagement mechanisms so that each student is aware of the class expectations and routines. This helps to create a predictable and consistent atmosphere. Here are four techniques that have shown to be effective with my pupils.


Students in my classroom can go to one area to recharge and quiet down when they are experiencing unpleasant emotions. The “amygdala first aid station” is named after the amygdala, which is the brain’s fight/flight/freeze area in the brain. 

The “hippocampus area,” named after the portion of the brain that memorizes and links new knowledge to what we already know, is a quiet space with tables where students can study or finish work. Finally, the “prefrontal cortex section,” named after the brain’s problem-solving region, has tables and collaboration areas for students who want to talk about projects or ideas, view films, and cooperate. Students become more self-aware and fluent in their cognitive processes when we teach them about their brain functions and relate them to specific tasks. As you consider how to establish predictable and secure locations to learn, socialize, and rest, check my piece “Brain Labs: A Place to Enliven Learning.”


If kids are in a negative brain state, we must first regulate their behavior before they can learn. The greatest technique I’ve discovered is to pay attention to their emotional temperature and let them know I’m there for them, regardless of their unpleasant behaviors. I utilize waiters and prescription pads as a means of customizing communication throughout the day to engage with and provide consistency for a varied assortment of children with various needs. These are very useful for reaching pupils who are resistant to oral communication. To establish customized continuous relationships, share notes, tiny objectives, affirmations, and requests. After the work or objective has been ordered and received, you might come up with creative methods to pay for it.


The “2×10 Approach,” created by psychologist Raymond Wlodkowski, is a great brain-aligned strategy to use with our most difficult pupils. Teachers engage in a personal chat—either written or in-person—with a student for two minutes every day for ten days about anything the student is interested in, as long as the talk is G-rated. Wlodkowski discovered that one student’s conduct had improved by 85 percent. He also saw that the conduct of the other children in the class had improved.


We create room in the frontal lobes for pleasant emotion and higher cognitive processes when we write down our ideas and feelings. A lockable diary can provide a secure space for pupils to discharge stress while retaining their privacy. If a student decides to write or draw their feelings and ideas in this format, we talk about how this diary may become a trusted companion and how they can use it to develop innovative forms of expression that can be shared when the time is right.


When it comes to dealing with kids, the way you communicate information is critical. Written notes may help students who are emotionally locked down and unresponsive to speaking. Create note cards for directives, options, or explanations, and allow pupils to write their comments instead of speaking. Every action is a kind of communication. 

Every action is a kind of communication. Even if a kid does not respond verbally, I continue to attempt the option of exchanging notes and letters.

Even as a seasoned educator, I am learning daily that I must manage my actions before any learning can take place, and the tactics listed above have been quite helpful. Students who battle with emotional disturbances are among our most vulnerable, yet their inner strength may show when we provide predictable and regular assistance for them.

Carter Martin

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