Mental Health, Parenting Support, Video

Mental Health and Children with Disabilities: a Webinar

Young people with disabilities have higher rates of stress and depression than those without. In this session we will discuss ways to assess and support the mental health needs of children with disabilities through both daily activities and services.

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Okay, I know there are still some folks who are coming in, but because we’ve got a short webinar today, we’re gonna go ahead and get started. So I wanna say welcome to everybody; thank you for coming. I am super excited about our topic, and about our presenter today. If you don’t know Exceptional Lives, I’m gonna spend a minute telling you a little bit about it. But first I wanna do some, just, very quick housekeeping, to make sure that everybody has a handle on what they’re doing in Zoom today. So, if you are a person who likes to use live captions, we do have them enabled; and you can just find this button that says, “CC Live Transcript” at the bottom of your screen, and just tell it to show your subtitles; that way the live transcript will show up. I also just wanna mention that in the next few weeks, we’ll have recorded versions of this available for free on our website, and those will have both English and Spanish captions. For those of you who are not so familiar with the chat feature, some of you, I see, have already introduced yourselves, let us know where you’re from, which is great. If you haven’t done that, please make sure that you set the arrow so that it’s pointing to Everyone, and then put your message in there, and you’ll just hit Return to send it. We’re also going to have a Q&A, so you’ll see the Q&A box at the bottom. We’ll do about 15 minutes of Q&A at the end. So feel to put questions into that box at any point. You do have the option, if you would like to, to check that it’s an anonymous question. And so, I encourage you ask anything that you’re thinking about. If we don’t get to you today, then we will follow up with you, and we’ll try to make sure your question gets answered. I got ahead of myself. So Exceptional Lives is an organization that is dedicated to supporting families of children with disabilities. And our work really is directly with parents and caregivers, but we also do a lot of work with teachers, educators, school administrators, and with community-based providers like physical therapists, occupational therapists. And our job, we are all, on our team, nearly all, ourselves, parents of children with disabilities; and so we know what it’s like to have a giant bundle of red tape in between you and the things that your child needs. And our job is to help you figure out, how do you get rid of that red tape so that you can get your kid what they need, and also so that your family has what they need so that everybody feels supported. We work primarily in Louisiana and Massachusetts, But we’ve got a lot of resources that’re available for folks elsewhere too. So if you haven’t seen our website, I hear that currently the server for all of Squarespace is down, but maybe give it a couple of hours and then please go take a look. We’ve got blogs and guides that give folks step-by-step resources about how to navigate really complex processes, like guardianship, and tutorship, and social security. We’ve got a searchable resource database for Louisiana and for Massachusetts, so you can plug in your zip code, insurance information, whatever else you’re looking for; that’s in English and Spanish. And then, we also have social media sites where parents can connect with each other. We have a brand-new podcast. So if you haven’t already heard it, we’d love for you to go take a listen to it. And we’ve got two projects going on right now that we would love you to be involved in. One is that we are building a family feedback team throughout Louisiana. This is a team that we’re gonna talk to monthly, to give us feedback on what we’re doing. Is it working for you? What else do you need? And we have an interview series called Families and Stories, where we are interviewing different families of children with disabilities. When possible, we interview both the parents and the children. And just talk about, “What is your life like? How have you navigated things? What ideas and tips do you have for other families? And then we use the video clips and quotes to write all about you and how cool you are on our website. So if you’re interested in either of these, please just leave us a note in the chat, and we’ll follow up with you. I also wanna mention that there is a poll up right now. So if you haven’t already answered that, please make sure that you do; we’re gonna share all of that. And it’s particularly important for you to give us some feedback on this first poll, because we’re gonna do a couple more throughout as we go. So even though this is a webinar, we’re gonna look for a lot of input. So in a minute, I’m gonna turn this over to John-Pierre, but I wanna, actually, first do something that I should’ve done right at the very beginning, which is to describe myself. So my name is Marisa Howard-Karp. I’m the chief operating officer at ELI. I’m a white woman in my 40s, with straight brown hair; and I am in a gray sweater. I’m so excited to work with John-Pierre on this. John-Pierre is a counselor in the Baton Rouge, in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. He works primarily with ninth- and 10th-grade students as the school counselor, and he also has an after-school mentoring program. So he’s doing a lot of one-on-one mentorship with the older students and the younger students, and has just, I think, shown so much enthusiasm and excitement for all of his students that he’s been recognized immediately, even though he is not long on the job. And he’s got great ideas. So, JohnPierre, I’m gonna turn it over to you. And I’m just so excited to have you here.

Greetings everyone. I’m so grateful to be a part of this webinar series. I wanna make sure I just introduce myself and do the self description. So once again, my name is John-Pierre LaFleur. I am a Black man in my 30s. I have a small afro with black hair. I have on a light purple shirt, with a dark purple tie. Today, what we’re gonna be taking a look at is mental health in children with disabilities, but we’re going to really kinda change the way we look at it, or the approach we’re gonna use, rather, to look at that. I really wanna to introduce a more systemic lens, and I really hope that you are able to, you know, find the benefits from looking at it from this perspective. Just to give you a brief rundown of what we’re gonna discuss today, we’re gonna first go into what is mental health, and take a look at a few statistics. We’re also going to, just briefly, discuss a few of the top mental health disorders. And then we’re gonna go into that systemic worldview, the application of that systemic approach, and then we’re gonna close out with a very brief activity to kinda get into that systemic way of thinking. So without further ado, what I’d like to ask you all is, we’ll just take a few moments for you all to answer. What does mental health mean to you? Once again, what does mental health mean to you? There is no right or wrong answer, of course, for this question, but I would like for us to just take a few moments to answer that. What does mental health mean to you? And I do see that our participants are answering the poll; I certainly appreciate your participation. I definitely think it’s, it’ll just kinda help the webinar flow if I’m not doing all of the talking, and we have that engagement; so I really appreciate you all answering it. And I would love to kinda share a few of those short answers as soon as we’re able to get to ’em. But in the meantime, I’d just like to share, for me, the best way for me to address mental health, or to describe it is to really come from a holistic lens. The way you think about yourself, the way you think about the world, and those with whom you interact with can ultimately affect your relationships; certainly can affect our bodies physically. And, you know, what I think we don’t hound on enough, or we don’t make enough connections to is, if we are stressed out, if we find ourselves unsure of where we are within society, or within our own system of work, or at school, it can greatly affect our performance. And, ultimately, it can affect how we live our lives. So I really think that mental health is really, really broad, and it really affects so many areas of our lives. And I believe we were able to get a few responses. So I just wanna share a few. “My mental health, a good place is just feeling happy sometimes.” And that’s certainly the case. Getting a few in right now; just bear with us for just a moment. Right, so while we’re getting those responses, just wanna make sure I share with you some definitions that I was able to find in regard to mental health as well. Can we go back one slide, please? Thank you. So of course, we just kinda went into how it’s the balance between all aspects of life. We kinda hit on the physical and the social, but it’s definitely gonna affect our spiritual as well. So how we are connected to, ultimately, what we believe in, what our thoughts, and where our core values lie also has a strong effect in correlation to our mental health. And then of course, as I stated, if we’re not mentally feeling up to doing something, it’s gonna affect our performance. It’s also going to affect our ailments physically. So if I’m stressed out about something, and I’m not learning some specific strategies, or some tools to alleviate some of that stress, that stress can build up and affect my body. And when I say my body, I’m talking about physically my body; like it can cause illnesses that we really overlook. So I think it’s very important for us to really understand how effective, excuse me, not effective, how mental health is connected, rather, to so many aspects of our lives. We were able to get a few more of the responses from the poll, so I just wanna, just share a few of them. “It means mentally how I’m doing; how do I feel or think, mentally, about myself?” Great response. “Stability, overall mental wellbeing, coping skills, being happy and fulfilled in life.” Wow, that’s a great answer. “Being able to cope with difficult parts of your life, and being able to relate to people in a positive way.” Wellbeing was also mentioned. And the last one I just wanna share, is, “To me, mental health is the key to a quality life. Without one’s mental health being stable, everything is stacked against you.” Wow. I couldn’t have said it much better myself. These were some great responses. Once again, that there really was no wrong answers. And I really appreciate you all being vulnerable in this session, to share your thoughts about mental health. I also wanted to share just a few statistics in regards to mental health as well. Can we go back one more slide? Thank you. So one in six children aged two to eight has developed a mental behavior, or developmental disorder. One in six. So that number definitely kinda leads us to believe that, more likely than not, we will interact with, and I’m not just talking about within our own family systems. But even with the organizations that we’re involved with outside of the system that we are involved with on a daily basis, it’s more than likely that we will run into children and youth who have been diagnosed with a mental or behavioral disorder. Another alarming statistic that, and I’ll be honest with you all, it really kind of hits home to me, especially with the role that I have as a school counselor, which is that last statistic. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 10 to 24. And I must say that it just continues to alarm me. I think so many of our youth are struggling with depression and suicidal ideation. But I do believe this stat can improve, and I do believe that we’re going to add a resource to your toolbox today that can assist you and and your families. If we could, what I’d like for us to do is take a look at this next slide. And it’s in regard to children’s mental disorders. As you can see, we have anxiety; depression; as well as ADHD, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; PTSD. These are, once again, just to list a few of the mental disorders that we can definitely see in children. And of course, kinda staying to the topic specifically, those students who have a disability as well. I think that, and this is why I love Exceptional Lives so much, we really need resources out there that specifically target families to assist in this arena. So I just have to send a special kudos to Exceptional Lives, and really wanna encourage you providers and parents out there to please get connected with this organization. I genuinely believe that there’re resources that can not only strengthen your family, but your entire family system as well. Just outta curiosity, I would love for you all to just type in the chat box for me; can you name a few mental health disorders that you know of that that may not be listed on the screen? And we’re specifically referring to mental disorders that can be found in children, or diagnosed in children. So if you wouldn’t mind, in the chat box, would you mind just listing a few? Okay, I see OCD; absolutely. Seasonal depression, hmm. Thank you for mentioning that, absolutely.

[Marisa] John-Pierre, I see that somebody else wrote into the chat, DMDD.

Thank you; absolutely, DMDD as well. And I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think that is discussed enough. I also see bipolar; suicide, of course. Anxiety is a big one, for sure. Especially post-COVID. I must admit, it’s certainly something that has truly affected our young people in a great way. Certainly something that I’m seeing in the schools, for sure.

John-Pierre, I’m sorry,


[Marisa] couple people asked what DMDD is. Okay, thanks.

Absolutely, DMDD is disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. Thank you for asking that. Wanna make sure we share that too. All right. And once again, thank you all for participating with us. What I’d like for us to do now is kinda make a transition. So what I wanna make sure I share is that I am not a therapist. I don’t wanna counsel on this webinar. However, I think it would be wise if we took a more solution-focused turn to this presentation. So what I’d like for us to focus on is what we can do as parents, as members of a family, to improve the state of mental health on the entire family system. So, as you can see on the screen, I have some pieces to a vehicle, right? We all see all of the different pieces to that vehicle. There’s some tires there, there’s some seats. I’m sure most of us would not wanna get in the car as it is currently, in the state that it is currently in, right? But just like a family, just like a family… We are so much like this vehicle. The parts are not independent. You see, when one gets move, all are affected to some extent. So just like all the pieces of this vehicle, here… If we were to put this vehicle together, if that vehicle were missing, maybe, let’s just, for example, say a tire, let’s say one of the tires were flat, or we were missing this piece. That’s going to affect the performance of the vehicle, okay? In its entirety. Not just that specific ailment, or that specific part that’s not working well; the entire vehicle is affected. And I just want you all to think about things from that perspective when we’re thinking about our own families. And not just our family systems, but the systems that we’re involved in at work, the systems that our children are within at school, and with their extracurricular activities. So I just wanna say thank you for listening. And I also really would love for us to start taking a look at things in regards to mental health, and in regards to how our family is affected from a systems worldview. Without further ado, I would love to just show this very short video, and I think it’ll explain that systems approach a little bit more in-detail for us. Yes, there’s no sound coming out.

[Narrator] If one person in the system is sick or is struggling, the whole, sick or is struggling, the whole system is affected, but often, the family system will adapt, and find a way to maintain equilibrium, even with the sick or struggling person playing their role. The danger here is that if a family system has created a status quo or equilibrium with the sick person playing their role, it might be difficult for the sick person to get better, as that change will affect the balance of the whole system. Often, a person struggling with a mental health or behavioral issue will not be able to get better unless all of the parts of the family system change a bit to allow for the person’s new role as healthy and well. Of course, family systems come in all shapes and sizes, with all different kinds of makeups. And the good news is, when we work with the whole system, we can have a long-lasting, multi-generational positive effect on the family. If your loved one needs treatment and/or therapy, scout out and work with therapists or treatment centers that use family-systems approaches, especially if your loved one is dealing with an addiction issue. There are family support groups, such as Al-Anon or CoDA that can be very helpful. I actually recommend these programs for everyone who wants to strengthen their own mental health, as well as strengthen their family system. It’s also a great idea to learn and practice mindfulness in your family system. There are many books and resources on how to encourage mindfulness within your family dynamic. Mindfulness helps everyone learn to allow space for themselves and their loved ones as they heal and grow.

All right. Thank you. Sorry we had a little bit of trouble with the sound at the beginning, but thanks for hanging in there. So, let’s think about your family system. Can we go back two slides? Thank you. Let’s think about your family system. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And I really think if we’re able to grasp that concept, we can really see how beneficial, systemically, we can improve a entire family. If we are all engaged with improving our mental health, it’s going to have an effect on the entire family. And not just the family, but the systems that surround the family as well. So let’s take a look at what’s on the screen now. What you see are 10 elements of mental health; and they range from individual to environmental factors. Now, there are times in which our involvement with social media, maybe the movies and shows that we watch. And of course our community organization involvement can affect our behavior, and ultimately, our relationships and interactions within our systems. And when I say systems, I’m not just talking about the system at home, but also the system that we are involved with in school, and of course, with our work as well. So I really just wanna make sure that I’m sharing with you all that, of course, we have the family system, that tight-knit family system that we really wanna make sure we have a good grasp of, right? But it’s not just what’s at home that affects the family system. It’s everything that the family system is connected to also plays a very, very high influence on the behavior of the parts of the family. And what do I mean by that? I mean, if we have children in the family who are involved in the Girl Scout troop, or the Boy Scout troop, that system that the children are a part of, or the youth are a part of within the scouting team, is also a major influence on the family because the child is a part of that system. So we really have to be mindful of what we’re getting our children involved in, what we’re getting our family exposed to, because it affects our relationships and interactions. So I strongly suggest that we all really take into account this systems approach. And I wanna stress to everyone on this call, I’m not trying to teach you how to parent, and I definitely don’t wanna tell you what to do; but I do believe if we’re able to add this lens, this perspective, to our toolbox, it will ultimately improve our family’s relationships and systems altogether. So without further ado, I know we are a little pressed for time. I hope I have time to do this last activity. Let me know if I’m not. I would love for us to just do a systems thinking activity, all right? So what I’d like for us to do is make two lists, okay? And a poll is gonna pop up on the screen. What I’d like for you all to do in this list is to have one that has sets, and then there’s gonna be another list of systems, okay? So let me give you an example. Let’s say I wanted to make a list about football; it’s my favorite sport. In that set, I would love for you to list what your, or who, rather, your favorite football players are. So in the Set, we would list all of our favorite football players. And of course, I said all, but really just a few. In that second space, under Systems, What I want you to do is write what they must do to transform into a team, okay? So once again, if I was gonna make a list in regards to football, my set would be a set of my favorite football players. And in the Systems column, what I’d like for you to do is list what they must do to transform into a team, okay? I have another example, if that one is still not necessarily bringing us up to speed. Let’s say that you wanted to write down, let’s say a set of ingredients to make a cake, okay? So you’re writing down a set of ingredients to make a cake, and then you would write down what to do to mix and bake them so that they transform into a system, okay? So, it does not have to be football; it does not have to be baking a cake, but I would like for you all to come up with two separate lists of sets and systems, and then we’ll have a discussion after that. Please follow up with any questions in the chat box, if we’re still, maybe, a little confused, but I would love for us to engage in this activity.

[Marisa] There should be a poll up on everybody’s screen right now. But if for some reason you don’t see it, you wanna just put your things right in the chat; we’ll keep an eye on that too.

Thank you for that, and I know it’s… We would like for them to be side by side, but because of the way the poll is set up, it’s not gonna necessarily look that way, which is perfectly fine. But I just wanna stress that each entry has a set on one side, and then it has its correponding, excuse me, corresponding system on the other side, okay? So they correlate with one another. All right. I see we have a… We’ve got a few who responded. Thanks for participating; appreciate it.

[Marisa] We’re gonna close the poll down in just a second, if you’ve got any last ones.

Yeah, we’re just taking a few moments to get some of those responses. And what I’d love for us to kinda put in the chat box, just so we can kinda keep the discussion going, is how about we share what exactly distinguishes a set from a system. Like, how do we know the difference between between a set and a system? And once again, there’s no right or wrong answers to this. I just want us to have a healthy discussion.

[Marisa] It looks like a lot of the answers are now pasted into the chat from the poll; and a couple of people have put them in by themselves.

Yes, I see. And I also see a few answers from that discussion question. So, “A set is individual people or parts;” a set is individual, I like that. “Having an order that allows the set pieces to flourish.” Hmm. I like that, I like that.

[Marisa] If you scroll up a little bit, there are some more in here too; I’m just looking at what folks had said. “They should all come together, literally at a round table, bring playbooks, experiences, and skills, and establish a leader.”

I love that answer, absolutely. I’m also looking at what some have put for the system. “To make it, stir, pour it into pan, bake.” “Plant seed into soil, add compost to amend soil, then let water and sunshine grow your garden,” I love that. Some systems; I like that, I like that. “We must honor each other, including mental, physical, and spiritual needs, how we each show up on the team. We must be able to communicate effectively, and find solutions to those problems that arise.” Wow. Very good answer, very good answer. I do have a few more discussion questions, but I’m gonna go ahead and put a pencil in our discussion, right here. But what I just wanted to make sure I stressed was how much the interactions that we have within our systems, whether it be with our families, whether it be at school, or whether it be at work, how much it has an effect on our overall individual mental health as well. And also our relationships within them. So I just wanna say, thank you again for being a part of this webinar. This was quite an experience for me too, so I just appreciate you all hanging in there with me. And I sincerely hope you all got something out of this presentation as well.

[Marisa] Thank you, John-Pierre. We’re gonna open this up for questions and answers. We’ve got a few more minutes; so I hope folks will stay on. You are welcome to put your questions into the Q&A box, and you can have that with your name attached, or you can do it anonymously. I’ve got a couple questions, but we’ll give it a minute to see if others come in too. And one thing that I just wanna say, John-Pierre, I so appreciate your systems approach. Just as you were describing that, I was thinking about my own children and how much they have gotten, and we all have gotten from Girl Scouts, and from the basketball league, and how we thought of those as after-school activities that were healthy. And then, during the early pandemic, when everything shut down, we saw how much it really impacted their mental health, and how much we felt

It’s amazing, yeah.

like we were on our own without those resources there. That was really profound in a way that we just hadn’t realized.

Absolutely, absolutely.

So I have a

Thanks for sharing that, too.

couple of questions that came in through the chat. And I would welcome folks to continue putting anything into the Q&A, if you’d like. But one question here, specific about mental health and kids with disabilities. Somebody had wrote in that their son, who is a teenager, is dealing with some depression and low self-esteem because he’s got a lot of learning disabilities, and is convinced that he’s just not as smart as his friends. And I think this person was, if I’m understanding the question right, trying to really understand, how do they approach this with him? You know, in this way that this disability has directly impacted his mental health?

Absolutely. But what I wanna make sure I state is that there is no one-size-fits-all. We really have to reach youth and whoever we’re working with where they are. So I wanna make sure I preface my response with that. But I do think it’s important for us to implement as much positive self-talk as we can. I’m not saying that that’s gonna be the ultimate fix, but I do think if we can encourage and support more positive language within the household, and for him, or, the he, she, whoever the youth may be, who’s affected from this, if they could hear more of that positive self-talk as well, I sincerely believe that that would be a healthy outlet. Not, I shouldn’t say a healthy outlet, that would be a healthy strategy to improve their overall mental health. I also think implementing some things outside of our family system to kinda get that youth involved in would really, really help them as well, with that kinda change of mindframe, or change of mindset. And what I mean by that is getting him involved in maybe a martial arts program, or finding a niche that he enjoys or that he’s good at, so that he can continue to improve. I think it’s extremely important for everyone. And I’m serious when I say everyone. So not just the youth, I’m talking about parents too. It’s important for us to have a healthy outlet that we can feel free to express ourselves, and feel free to express what those ailments are that we find are faults within ourselves. But not only acknowledge them, improve them or approve upon them as well. So I hope I answered the question, but I definitely was thinking involvement with some positive extracurriculars. And then of course, encouraging that positive self-talk at home would be a great step in the right direction.

Thank you. I wanna note, we have time for one more question, which I’m gonna read in just a second, but I wanna note that we’ve launched our evaluation poll, just a couple of quick questions so that you can give us your feedback on this session. So please be sure to answer before you head out today. The next question that I wanna tackle here, somebody wrote, “When a child is in the system of the school as opposed to the family, as in the cookie example, how can you make sure that that system makes the right adjustments?”

Hmm, wow; that is definitely a good question. I think as parents, it’s very, very important, of course, for us to advocate for our children, right? There’s no way I’m gonna tell a parent not to do that. However, I do think to assist with making sure our children are getting what they need within the education system, we have to teach them to advocate for themselves as well. And I think the more educated they are about what works for them, the more we will see improvement within their system at school. Now, of course, I’m not saying this is the end-all, be-all. There are times when we have to take it a step further than that; but I do believe if we can encourage our children to advocate for themselves more, I do believe we’ll see improvement with what the system is offering to our children at school. Or wherever they may be.

I love that. And I think one of the things that you are bringing up that feels so important is that our children are not just part of this system, but also we wanna raise them to drive that.

Absolutely, absolutely.

So I know that we have not gotten to all of the questions. I wanna say that if you have sent in questions, or if you think of more questions, we will try to get back to you about all of those. I also wanna say that John-Pierre has recorded a short video for us with some tools, particularly for working with younger children, on mental health. And that will be up on our website pretty soon. Thank you so much for coming. We’ve got a whole bunch more of these webinars coming up, including next week. I’m so excited about this, a session on the parallels between Black history and disability history, among other things. And then, on the same topic, I have now lost where it is… The pieces at the end, around “Skills for Employment and Independent Living.” So as we start to talk about advocacy and working with younger children, and we move into working with teenagers, we’re covering the whole spectrum in this series. So if you enjoyed the session, I hope that you will be back to join us for more, particularly the one on March 9th; which is led, again, by John-Pierre, “The Impact of Racism on Discipline for Students with Disabilities.” I’m so excited about it. So I wanna say thank you to everybody for your time tonight, and we hope to see you again soon.

Thank you.

Real Talk About Disabilities:
Issues faced by families of color

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