Maximizing your school/ college work through neuropsychology

How COVID-19 will cause disruption to school/ college work

A school/ college provides a structured learning environment, which promotes motivation in the following ways:

  • It provides a timetable and routine
  • There are clear rules and regulations
  • Behavioural contingencies are in place, i.e. sanctions are present to promote rules and rewards are in place to promote good behaviour and learning.
  • Goals are set and prompts are given by teachers to complete the work
  • The school is an environment which is predominately for learning. Motivation is strongly modelled by other students working and motivation is promoted by the teachers being physically present.

Some of these structures are still in place during COVID-19 as the schools/ colleges can provide education through virtual mediums, but the structured environment provided by the school, teachers and children cannot be fully simulated and motivation can be affected.  This is particularly the case in young adults/ adolescents who are under 25 because their brains are still in the process of development with the frontal lobes being the last to reach maturity.   The higher levels of stress which accompanies uncertainty can also disrupt frontal lobe function.  The frontal lobes are also even more compromised in young people with brain injuries, ADHD and autistic spectrum disorder.

What are the frontal lobes and executive skills?

The frontal lobes facilitate executive skills which are basically structured thinking skills, which are required to make sense of and function in an otherwise unpredictable, unstructured social environment and enable us to act in a goal directed manner.  Without these executive functioning skills, we would essentially be acting in response to our social environment on an ‘automatic pilot’ level and our behaviours would be driven by factors in our environment which provide us with immediate gratification and would have difficulty planning, organising and structuring work.  The structured environment of a school helps compensate for these skills so without this structure and in a more distracting environment the young person’s motivation and learning abilities may be markedly compromised.

How neuropsychology can help?

Neuropsychologists are experts in developing frameworks/ tools/ environments to promote learning strategies and executive skills.   We are also experts in identifying emotional, environmental and behavioural barriers which can affect motivation and implementing strategies to manage these barriers.  In some instances we can help to implement more effective strategies by working with parents or others working with the students (e.g. support workers).

Examples of sessions neuropsychologists can provide to help include the following:

  • Goal setting and timetabling
  • Strategies to promote motivation (e.g. breaking tasks into chunks, creating a routine, identification of rewards).
  • Identification of emotional, environmental and behavioural barriers which prevent goal achievement and strategies to manage them.
  • Working with parents to help promote motivation.
  • Strategies to promote learning of materials and paying attention
  • Strategies for organising and planning, including essay plans and systematic searches
  • Strategies for problem solving
  • Strategies to manage problems with frustration and anxiety.