TGS Post-School Transitions Database

Last week a group of extremely dedicated staff and parents lauched a database detailing post school options for students with language disorders. Below is a speech given by our Executive Principal, Miss Vikki Rose Graydon, at its launch:

MAKING CONNECTIONS

The new Transitions Database is about “making connections”. You would think today, with social media, facebook, television, youtube, Google etc that this would be a relatively easy task. These tools have allowed young people to more easily connect with friends, family, job opportunities, current events, and possibilities that many of us would never have dreamt of when we graduated from school and ventured into the world. However, it would seem to me that the task for all young people today is working out which connections are meaningful and worth their time, which ones are a waste of time, and indeed which are dangerous or harmful to their safety or wellbeing. This isn‟t so different to the time before the days of the world wide web and social media technology, is it? Isn‟t it just the medi-um that has changed?

For me, the connections that young people with Primary Language Disorders need to make to succeed in this world happen on a number of different levels.

At school, and particularly at Glenleighden, the aim is to provide students with opportunities to make the neurologi-cal connections in their brains which will allow them to sort through the myriad of information they are presented with and assist them in making more informed decisions about the world and their lives. We know that everyone‟s brain is wired differently, and sometimes those differences, particularly in terms of language, have a significant im-pact on the way we perform in the world. John Medina, the author of Brain Rules, talks about the fact that most people having a critical language area in the brain, and if it is not tightly focused or if it sits in a different part of the brain, it can make all the difference to language competence. I see language as the glue which connects our experi-ences together and helps us to see links, make decisions and problem solve, an analogy which fits with this brain research. If you want the glue to be effective you need to know where to find it and it needs to be concentrated and it needs to be connecting the right bits. Making the right connections in our students‟ brains at Glenleighden is facil-itated through real experiences, and a hands on approach to curriculum, problemsolving and the complex world of socialising.

These connections can become stronger by repeating and adding to these experiences in community contexts and with family back up and support.

Brain research is also increasingly showing that a safe and supportive environment, be that at school or outside of school, is not just a nice thing, but a necessary thing to ensure optimal learning takes place.

An environment which allows young people to feel safe to make mistakes results in positive learning experiences and more resilient individuals who understand that answers are not always easy to come by, nor are they black and white. Emotional connections also allow young people to build trust and respect and become more loyal employees, friends and colleagues, and, in having these connections with others, perhaps makes them less vulnerable to the poor intentions of others.

Of course, ultimately we want young people to be able to connect with themselves, to be able to understand how they tick, what makes them laugh and cry, how to make things less complicated in a world in which they are increasingly bombarded with information, to know what influences their decision making and to have trusted confidantes.

What happens when young people are unable to make connections? I would like to briefly highlight the contexts and possible outcomes for young people with language disorders who may not be given appropriate support and the op-portunities to connect, neurologically, emotionally, with their family, friends and community.

A report this year from the Australian Institute of Criminology indicated that 46% of a sample of young offenders were identified with clinically significant oral language impairment. These statistics reflect the vulnerability and risk of young people with language disorders, but it also perhaps demonstrates the possible outcomes if they are not pro-vided with the right connections.

Added to this are some facts about mental health issues:

* The greatest number of people with a mental illness are within the 18-24 year age group;

* Depression is one of the most common health conditions in young people and increases during adolescence;

* People who are unemployed or not in the paid workforce have the highest rates of mental disorder with a prevalence rate of 26-34% (twice that to those in full-time paid employment);

* Rates of mental illness are highest for men and women living alone.

It has also been widely shown in the research that children and adolescents with language learning disability or speech/language impairments have an increased likelihood of mental health problems later in life.

So what does this all mean? I think it means that our young people are in a much better position to experience success in their lives if they have connections, through family, friends, community, and work. The connections between schools and post-school agencies are a vital part of this puzzle and something which we need to actively engage in. The Transitions Database, championed and supported by our Head of School and school staff, and put together by Kaye McFarlane, is a way of not only making those connections explicit, but providing real and practical opportuni-ties for other students to connect from outside our school community.

 

This year it has been my privilege, as well as an enormous learning experience for my whole family, to have had living in our house a young lady with primary language disorder. It has not been without its challenges: misinterpretations on both sides, communication breakdowns, tears, frustration, jumping to conclusions, fairness and equity issues, understanding communication issues versus normal teenage issues, refereeing, fighting over left overs. But, the common theme has been about the motivation to connect: connection through trying to understand those who are different to us; connection through our own and others‟ experiences; connection through trying to communicate the things which are important to us; connection through seeing others‟ frustrations; connection through shared experiences, and laughter, and forgiveness. This experience has made it even more clear to me how important it is that the family and community networks for these young people are helping them to explicitly draw connections between different expe-riences and thereby helping these young people to make sense of the world. It has also highlighted, of course, the amazing job that families, parents and siblings, do each day to help with this process.

I would like to therefore thank all of you- you are all a piece of the puzzle, the network, providing the opportunities for young people with language disorders to connect at many different levels – neurological connections, educational connections, social and emotional connections, vocational connections and connections to the communities in which they live.

I‟d like to finish with a quote from H Melville:

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and along those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects”.

Thank you all for being part of those connections now and into the future.

You can find the Database at http://transitions.glenleighden.org.au/

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