Saturday, March 15, 2014

TESOL Greece 35th Annual Conference Opening Plenary

TESOL Greece opens it's 35th conference with a thought-provoking plenary by Eleni Livaniou on Issues  of comorbidity of ADHD and ASD in Learning and Behavior Profiles. Dr. Livaniou is a PhD in developmental and cognitive psychology.

Beginning with a focus on the rise in ADHD and ASD (attention deficit and autism) in recent years she focuses briefly on the potential biological and environmental causes that are currently being researched. Age of parents, premature births, as well as better screening and reduced stigmas are all contributing factors. There are also increased distinctions between differing forms of disorders such as the distinction between full blown autism and high-functioning autism and Aspergers.  She completes her introduction by pointing out the differences in behavior between these developmental issues, particularly ADHD vs ASD. 

She then moves on to the comorbidity of these two disorders at once which create an especially difficult situation for learners and their instructors. Counseling, medication, speech therapy, occupational therapy, psychoeducational support and behavior modification therapy are all suggested as means of treating this condition, though she highlights some limitations of therapy in Greece with current healthcare coverage in the country. 

Beyond the academic aspects and effects of these conditions (particularly in the case of comorbidity) she goes on to describe the social and emotional consequences the children suffer in school as well as at home. 

She then focuses on the school specific issues faced as well as the characteristics kids face in school. Problems with math, easily distracted, problems with abstract thought, trouble sitting still, body language, impulsivity, fear of change, agoraphobia, lack of common sense and so on. 

The issues these kids face are highlighted for teachers to be aware of this to encourage teachers to focus on fundamental social skills (turn taking, waiting, speaking to different people in different ways, initiating interactions, sitting correctly) that cannot be assumed as givens for all children. 

In short, her talk encourages teachers to consider alternative possibilities to "he's a bad student" or "his parents haven't raised him well" and other judgments that are easy to make by frustrated teachers. To avoid confusing perseverance with compulsiveness. To realize that structure and attention to socialization in YL classes can help train children with strategies to interact more appropriately at school and beyond. 

Her conclusion focuses on the need for early intervention and diagnosis. The identification of problems early in by parents and teachers

The action plan gives guidelines for identifying these issues to notice problems early and allow for intervention to occur.

She also suggests academic skills and social skills to be focused on in class in addition to language skills (teaching kids to say "thank you", "please", "hello", "goodbye"). Focusing on these subsidiary aims in all lessons helps teachers and students both. 

Reflecting on lessons, materials, interactions (pairs, groups, individual work) and how these will affect affected children is said to be essential as a step in lesson planning to best teach these classes. 

She finishes by giving tips for structuring and intervening with individual children to guide their learning in measurable, concrete and specific ways that can be easily understood by the learners. 

Overall her talk very clearly and succinctly covers the spectrum of issues, symptoms and solutions for these learners, with details teachers can use to identify such students and find ways to help them. 

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