The University Years: Claire Eastham discusses living with social anxiety

University

University can be a difficult time for anyone, but throwing social anxiety into the mix just makes it that much harder. Claire Eastham, author of We’re All Mad Here, has battled with her social anxiety for many years, from her school days, through university and even when she started working in her dream job in publishing. In this extract, she discusses how going to university affected her mental health and the different ways she tried to combat her anxiety. She also touches on the exam stress, social media and the pressure of fitting in.

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What is the science behind being creative and why are people with dyslexia so good at it?

Dyslexia CreativityMargaret Malpas, author of Self-fulfilment with Dyslexia, provides an overview of the creative process in a person’s brain and explores the reasons why creativity is a particular strength of people with dyslexia.

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Her book, printed on cream paper so that it is easy on the eye, is a very simple to follow guide designed to help people with dyslexia make the most of their true potential. Royalties from the sale of the book will be donated to the British Dyslexia Association. Find out more about the book here.

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Stephen Cherry’s Five Not Very Good Reasons for Not Engaging with Theology

What is theology? And why should we be interested in it?

Stephen Cherry tackles five ‘not very good’ reasons for not engaging with theology, in his new book, God Curious. Here in this exclusive extract, he shares them with us.

Five Not Very Good Reasons for Not Engaging with Theology

The first reason that might be suggested is this: I don’t believe in God therefore I can’t possibly study God.

If theology were limited to questions about the nature of God then you might have a point. That which doesn’t exist can’t have a nature … However, theology and religion have been important in history and philosophy. They continue to impact hugely on current affairs and inform the ways in which people respond to realities as different as beauty and tragedy. In other words, what goes on when people are motivated by religious faith and theological conviction is a matter of significance well beyond the community of believers. Indeed, an atheist may feel that theology is too important a subject to be left to those who believe in God. And certainly, theology and religion aren’t going to go away just because atheists are dismissive of believers.

The second reason is the opposite of the first. I not only believe in God but I know God very well, and for this reason I don’t want to study God any more than I would want to study my parents or my partner. 

I agree that if you are completely confident that you know all there is to know about God then theology is not for you.  Theology is only worth exploring if you think that other people’s views about God are at least as interesting as your own.

The third reason why you may not want to study theology is because you think it is not a real subject of study but just a professional training programme for ministers of religion.

It is true that this used to be the case, and that there are places where people study theology only for this reason. It is also true that if you study theology at university you may well come across people who are studying for this reason, and you will almost certainly read books by people who are trained and ordained ministers and you may well be taught by some.  But theology stopped being the province of the clergy alone a long time ago, and it has become a much more lively subject since – so don’t let that one worry you.

The fourth reason you may not wish to study theology is because it’s just about learning what the Bible says or what people of different religions do.

If you think this you may be muddling up theology, the most exciting subject imaginable, with what has all too often passed for ‘religious education’ at school; which is all too often dominated not by the pursuit of life’s deepest questions but by learning superficial details about religious traditions.

The fifth reason is a bit like the fourth in that you may think that theology is entirely concerned with ancient and irrelevant philosophical problems of the ‘how many angels can dance on a pin-head’ variety

I can guarantee that you won’t be discussing that question, or anything like it, if you engage with theology today! The agenda has moved on. Theologians today seek to learn from the past and to understand why theologians of previous eras posed and answered certain questions in the way they did, but they also seek to learn from theologians of other faiths and to respond to the problems and predicaments that occur in today’s world as well as to the classic questions such as the existence of God and the consequences of believing specific doctrines.

____

From Chapter 3 of God Curious by Stephen Cherry.

Stephen Cherry is the Dean of King’s College Cambridge, and the author of many books. He tweets here.

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How to support grieving college students – Part 1

Between 35% and 48% of college students have lost a family member or close friend within the last two years. Grieving college students and young adults can often feel isolated and vulnerable, and may feel that no one else ‘gets’ what they are going through. In the first part of this two-part post, co-author of We Get It, David Fajgenbaum says in his own words how he aims to provide guidance and support for bereaved students and young adults.

Servaty-Seib-WeGetIt-C2W

Losing a loved one at any age is difficult. But there are certain things about college and young adulthood that can make it a particularly difficult time to grieve. We’re often away from home for the first time and/or at college. We’re going through an intense period of personal and professional development. We’re swamped with assignments or work tasks. We’re often geographically far from our ill or grieving loved ones. We’re supposed to have the “best four years of our lives” and be worry free. Despite having other grieving young adults all around us (one out of three college students reports grieving in the last year), we can and often do feel completely alone and believe that there is no one around us who “gets” what we are going through.

We get it. These are some of the reasons that Heather and I have dedicated much of our lives to helping grieving college students and young adults. Heather has published bereavement research, advocated for young adult grievers as the President of the Association for Death Education & Counseling, and helped to establish one of the only student bereavement leave policies in the nation on her campus at Purdue University. I established a peer-led grief support group at Georgetown University after my mom died, grew the organization into a national movement (AMF) that has reached 3,000+ grieving students on 200+ campuses, and helped to propel college student grief to become a priority issue in higher education in the United States.

But four years ago, Heather and I connected over our mutual concern for all of the students not being reached by my nonprofit and not benefiting from Heather’s research and outreach. We had seen the impact that can be made on a griever’s life when they receive the support they desperately need, and we knew there were many more around the world in need of support and of connection with others who “get it.” Some individuals are able to find and connect with those with similar experiences of loss, whereas others are never able.

We assembled a book of autobiographical narratives written by 33 grieving college students and young adults for grieving college students and young adults. We believe these narratives can give readers a voice and the courage to share their grief experiences with others. We have discovered that one of the most powerful experiences for grieving individuals is to hear even a small element of their own experience being expressed by another. We wanted to make this experience possible for all, regardless of their access to others with similar experiences.

This book provides a window into the many grief reactions and mourning approaches of 33 grieving students and young adults. These young adults contributed their stories to this book to make a difference in the lives of future grieving students through sharing their stories–through showing that they “get it.” Rather than providing a prescription for how grief should be done, they genuinely describe the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors they experienced throughout their grief journeys. The power of this book is in the candid, engaging, and heartfelt sharing contained in these stories. We have offered the whole narratives, organized them based on themes, and provided commentary and reflection questions at the end of each chapter to help grievers to keep actively moving forward. We are so grateful for their beautifully-written stories.

If you are a grieving college student or young adult, we hope our book will be helpful for you and that you will find multiple points of connection as you read. This book was also written to offer guidance to those who want to support grieving college students and young adults, including family members, friends, counselors, professors, or university staff members. If you fall into this group, we hope that this book will provide helpful insights into the unique and dynamic nature of grief.

I’d like to close by sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned through my own grieving process and work:

First, helping others through support and community service has been very therapeutic for me , and I’ve heard this from many of our AMF members. The community service component is a particularly helpful way to get guys, like myself, to confront some of their emotions – through actively doing something. Along the same lines, I also get tremendous therapeutic benefit from dedicating my life to fighting cancer. Second, the power of peer support and being able to speak with others who “get it” cannot be underestimated; my support group at Georgetown was my lifeline. Third, we all express our emotions differently, so it is essential that we encourage people struggling with grief to express their emotions in whatever way is most helpful for them. Fourth, even though it has been over 10 years, I still miss my mom and wish that she were still here. But the sadness and intensity has certainly decreased over the years, so that I’m able to integrate my memories and the lessons she taught me to be able to actively move forward.

David C. Fajgenbaum, M.D., MSc, is a Research Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania and the co-founder of the National Students of AMF Support Network, a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting college students grieving the illness or death of a loved one. Dr. Fajgenbaum co-founded the organization in 2006 in memory of his mother, Anne Marie Fajgenbaum (AMF). The organization is now a national movement that has supported 3,000+ students on 200+ campuses and raised national awareness about college student grief. AMF now stands for “Actively Moving Forward.” David has been profiled on Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 list, the Today Show, Reader’s Digest, and 40 million bags of Doritos.  David received his BS from Georgetown University, his MSc in Public Health from Oxford University, his MD from the University of Pennsylvania, and his MBA from The Wharton School of Business. Dr. Fajgenbaum lives in Philadelphia, PA.

Learn more about We Get It.

Read part two of this blog post.

Transition Talk – Josh Muggleton answers your questions.

Muggleton, Joshua 1During World Autism Awareness Month we invited members of our Facebook page to ask JKP authors a question of their choice and we were overwhelmed by the high level of response. In this second instalment of answers, Joshua Muggleton responds to questions on how best to prepare for starting university, leaving home and progressing into adulthood.

Many of our questions look to ask advice on how best to prepare young adults for life after school and the move to university. Just like moving from primary to secondary school this can be a daunting time. Do you have any reflections from your move to secondary school to university? Did you feel fully prepared beforehand, if so what kind of things helped you to feel confident about the move?

Moving to university can seem a lot more daunting than moving to secondary school – there is a lot more unstructured time, you have to look after yourself, and that’s before we even get to the academic work. That said, a lot of people with AS who hated school love their time at university – including me!

There were three things that really helped me move to university. The first was my college. I went to a specialist college for people with AS, and they helped me prepare and get my Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) assessment done, improved my confidence with public transport and budgeting, and even took me to see the university (no mean feat, given that St Andrews is in the middle of nowhere, and doesn’t even have a train station!). In short, for my last year (if not earlier) they were starting to prepare me to move on to university.

The second thing was the Student Support team at my university, in particular, my advisor, Malcolm. He got my DSA assessment, which gave him an idea of my support needs, but he also took the time to contact me, get to know me, and ask me what he could do to help. This covered everything from exam concessions, and booking tutorial times in advance, to helping with accommodation. I remember once, I was worried that I would not be able to get Melatonin, which I have been prescribed to help me get to sleep. I mentioned this to him, and he asked if he could call me back in 10 minutes. 10 minutes later, he told me he had been down to the chemist, and they told him they would stock it for me. It is this individual approach that really made the difference.

However, the one bit of support I could not have done without is Academic parents. This is a student lead tradition in St Andrews, dating back to the middle ages, when students would come as young teenagers, and still need a parental figure. Then older students adopted incoming students into families. In modern times, third and forth year students adopt incoming freshers in the same way. I was lucky enough to have a family friend, whose daughter was about to enter her final year at St Andrews, and who also had a son with Aspergers Syndrome. Her daughter, Hatty, got in touch with me, and offered to be my academic mum. She was there to meet me on the day I moved into halls, helped me get through the freshers week schedule, introduced me to societies, and Phil, who would later become my academic dad, and generally met up with me every now and then to check in on me. The support of both my academic parents was by far the most useful. I am still in touch with them both, as well as my own eight academic kids.

I was filmed by channel 4 for the run up to university, and my first year. You can still see clips of this at www.yeardot.co.uk.

Part of going to university usually means moving away from home. Glyn Charlesworth asks “hi josh how did moving away from home go for you? Did you need or get any support? My 25 year old is thinking of moving out. Is there anything I can do to help him through this?”  How did you find living independently? What do you feel could help our followers get a better understanding of what its like to make those first steps to independence and how best to support those ready to make the move?

 Hi Glyn

I suppose I moved away from home in two phases. The second, moving to university, I have just covered. However, the first phrase was when I moved to a specialist residential college for people with Aspergers Syndrome, where I lived Monday to Friday. This was a really tough time for me (partly because for the first year, I had to share a room), and my dad told me after my first year that he had kept a full tank of petrol in the car, as he thought I might get a call saying I couldn’t take it any more and I had to come home. However, I wanted to do it, as I know it was the only option for me to start to do what I wanted to do.

The fact your son is thinking of moving out is great – half the battle has already been won. The next bit is using that motivation to make it happen. I would start doing work on budgeting, cooking (including healthy eating), laundry skills, food shopping, how to pay bills etc. This can all be done while at home before he moves out, and starts to allow him to learn how do these things while in an environment where he can make mistakes with minimal consequences. When he is confident and able to do these things without prompting, then you can look at moving out.

Moving in might be quite quick, if he has learned all the life skills earlier. However, it is still a new environment to get used to, so it could take a while for him to feel comfortable there. This might mean he is only there one night a week, then two, then three. Equally, he may have problems applying the life skills you have taught him in a new environment, so you might have to go over and help him for a while.

In both myself, and my brother (who has more severe autism, and just moved into supported living), moving out has given us a lot more confidence given us more space where we can feel safe (once we feel safe there), so it is definitely worth doing if you can!

And our final question is from Shelly Hester “Hello Joshua. My daughter is 12 years old and I just want to prepare her for all that is ahead. What is the most important thing your parents did for you to help you feel confident making your own way in life?”

 Hi Shelly

Ooh, that’s a tricky one. I suppose the most important thing my parents did to give me confidence changed over time, and as I developed. Two things do really stick out in my mind though.

The first is that exams are just a piece of paper. Yes, they can be useful, but they are not worth living and dying over. Schools really seem to drum into kids the importance of exams, and how they are vital to the rest of their life, and frankly, scare children into studying, which is just wrong. My parents reassuring me that exams weren’t everything helped take the pressure off, and, when it came to A levels, helped me enjoy studying again.

The second bit, which is perhaps more relevant post GCSEs, was they told me to do what I wanted to do. I think this is best summed up in a video someone showed me on youtube, its well worth a watch (http://tinyurl.com/joshjkp). After the pressure of exams, comes the pressure of money – you have to get a well paying job, even if you don’t like doing it, which is just stupid. My parents gave me the confidence to follow a path to do what I want to do.

There is a bit in the video where the narrator says the only way to become a master of something is to love it, and I think this is particularly true for people with Autism. We have our passions, things we love to do, and when these are tapped, we can become masters of it, and sought after. Often the most successful people with Autism aren’t those who learn to fit into a job they don’t really like. They are those with a well developed skill that means people seek them out, and don’t mind their executrices because their skill is so finely honed, rare, or sought after, that they are willing to adapt to fit the person with autism. My advice, therefore, is to find that passion, that thing your daughter really enjoys. It may take years to find, and it might change once or twice, but once she’s found it, chase it, and find a way to make it a job. If she can take that passion and really become a master of it, then people will come to her for it.

Joshua Muggleton is the author of Raising Martians from Crash Landing to Leaving Home (2011) published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.