The Anxiety Workbook for Supporting Teens who Learn Differently (A book review)


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I was honoured when asked to review the above named book published by JKPBooks. I am proud to be associated with this publisher myself and I have previously read many of their educational publications. This book is of particular interest to me as its the first one I’ve read that is written especially for teenagers. Young people learn differently from others and to have a book dedicated to their learning is highly appropriate.

The authors are Clare Ward and James Galpin. Clare is a Speech Therapist who works in the education sector and also trains educationalists. Personally I am a huge fan of Speech and Language therapists as they are often the key to unlocking a child or young person and helping them to maximise their potential. James is a developmental psychologist who trains teachers and is highly knowledgable in the area of SEND.

At the start of the book the authors make it clear that they are less interested in the label assigned to a young person, they would rather focus on the individual need. This is a belief which I share and feel that the label is only valuable for securing extra funds to educate the young person. The authors write that they believe that ‘uncertainty’ is the driving force behind most, if not all special educational needs. The introduction to the book explains that it is perfectly natural for young people to feel uncertain or anxious at certain times as they grow up. When you look at the enormity of the situations forced upon today’s teenagers such as terrorist activities, a World wide health pandemic and ever increasing political protests all running alongside attempting to navigate friendships, school exams and relationships there is little wonder that anxiety and uncertainty rears its head.

The authors have developed the 3s model to help address uncertainty. That is Structure, Sensory and Social skills. Structure is how the World is organised. Sensory is the way in which we process sensory information such as lights, sounds, sights, smells and much more. Social skills is our understanding of the social world.

As you might expect the book is organised into chapters. Chapter one covers theory and the research used to underpin that theory. Chapter 2 looks at how adults can better understand the situation and therefore help their students. They use the example of behaviour and ask the question ‘Where is the uncertainty?’ once that question can be answered with confidence you will have found the root of the behaviour. Once the root of the behaviour is found it is easier to design support for the student.

Chapters three, four and five look at the three Ss in more detail. For example, chapter 5 looks at the need for teens to understand themselves first in order to understand others. The chapter also shows how understanding others helps them to manage certain social situations better. The authors refer to Dweck’s Growth Mindset and provide some worksheets for how to move from a fixed to a growth mindset. Some questionnaires are provided to determine if the students are ready to embrace a challenge or shy away from it. Worksheets to help identify behaviour triggers are particularly useful. They allow an alternative way of thinking about a certain trigger. There are helpful ways to flip the narrative and move from a fixed to a growth mindset. Although the authors don’t actually use diagnostic labels they have provided a reference of the more common labels found in education as this is useful in terms of our understanding.

The authors are hoping for a big change of mindset with a rethinking of behaviour in the light of their theory on uncertainty. They say that when humans are struggling or behaving in a way that we find unhelpful or unexpected we should always ask ourselves ‘Where’s the uncertainty?’ Answer that question and you’re on your way to solving the behaviour challenge.

The book is aesthetically pleasing and as soon as it arrived I was keen to explore inside the covers. Throughout the the book there are clear and concise explanations of new theories. The book is written in simple terms that non speech therapists and psychologists can understand. It is free from jargon and is punctuated by diagrams to aid understanding of new concepts. The book appeals to me because it adds to my thinking that all behaviour is a form of communication. The authors provide links to further reading on the topic.

I highly recommend this book for anyone involved in working with young teens.