Isla is a 17 year old female who has had long periods of absenteeism from education due to significant physical disabilities and debilitating medical difficulties, all of which has also caused Isla to suffer from anxiety and depression. Isla was due to take her A-levels and transition to college before the pandemic hit.
Isla’s school asked for a tailor-made digital programme, focusing on transition and uncertainty, to support Isla and her peers. The aim of these sessions was to bridge the gap between school and college and ensure their year 11s had a safe space to reflect on and express their experiences so that they could thrive in a bigger educational setting. The digital space also allowed the year 11s to continue connecting throughout the term and summer holidays so that their contact with education and each other hadn’t completely dropped off, potentially leaving them with months of time to ruminate and marinade in self-doubt and fear about upcoming changes.
During the sessions Isla was always very self-aware and insightful about her own journey and how the pandemic was impacting on her, for example sharing that she hates the word ‘resilience’ because it had been used against her so many times to dismiss any vulnerabilities she experienced, and tell her to ‘pull herself together’. She preferred to think about resilience as overcoming challenges and negotiating difficulties, and shared that her pattern of responding to adversity was to withdraw and give up. This was far from the Isla that we experienced, who attended 100% of the webinars offered to her, and was always the first to arrive for the sessions.
Our normal participant profile targets young people who have experienced trauma and adverse experiences, and who display the pain and distress that underlies these experiences through disruptive, challenging and resistant behaviour (hyper-arousal). During the pandemic we have found the content of our programmes more relevant to young people than ever, and have noticed a big increase in young people who, like Isla, display their pain and distress by shutting down and withdrawing (hypo-arousal). Isla reflected that she enjoyed this reflective space being digital, and that she would have likely failed to access this support if it had been face-to-face, as she would have had to overcome many barriers to attend.
During the summer holidays we facilitated a ‘summer transition camp’, which Isla was invited to. We’re pleased to say she attended all the sessions, and acknowledged that she wouldn’t have made it if she hadn’t had such a positive experience of engaging with our digital support beforehand.
It was good doing webinars first, and then being with people in-person was helpful for getting ready and preparing to go back to school. Back to school is always a source of anxiety. More kids should have access to stuff like this.
Isla shared that the sessions helped her to gain confidence and start bouncing back from problems more easily. She reflected that the sessions had allowed her to express anything she wanted, without fear of being judged, had created a routine in her life and that she was grateful for the space to gain social interactions during the lockdown.