The educational field today faces significant challenges. After the COVID-19 pandemic, various studies have shown negative consequences on the cognitive development and academic learning of children worldwide. This has been reflected in the complexity and diversity of learning needs, requiring new approaches for each student. In this context, the role of the educational support therapist becomes crucial to ensure proper learning development and overcome any difficulties that may arise. We generally understand their professional work, but we are often unclear about the scope of their professional competence. So, what exactly is an academic support therapist?

The Importance of the Academic Support Therapist

Academic support therapists or psychologists are professionals specialized in the educational environment of children and adolescents, focusing on analyzing special needs and learning difficulties to design strategies aimed at acquiring skills and abilities. With this objective, the academic support therapist studies the difficulties encountered, determines, and provides a series of tools, which are individually adapted to help and foster the development of their learning.

The work of the educational support therapist begins with «Understanding,» which means identifying and understanding the underlying causes of the difficulties students face. This initial understanding is fundamental, as it allows for the precise design of procedures and strategies to effectively address these difficulties. To achieve a holistic understanding of the students, brief reports and evaluations are used, providing a broader view of the student’s educational needs.

This comprehensive approach is key to their professional execution, as it allows the support therapist to develop individual interventions that address not only the surface symptoms but also the root causes. From this point, strategy planning begins, adapting to the student’s academic curriculum. These strategies are primarily implemented in learning areas that pose difficulties and where the student lacks sufficient resources for proper coping. In this regard, the support therapist provides specific tools tailored to the identified needs.

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Psychopedagogical Support: Beyond Cognitive Aspects

Psychopedagogical support has its roots in cognitive psychology, initially focusing on learning difficulties, especially those related to executive function regulation. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic, support needs have been significantly exacerbated.

Functions like planning, inhibition, and working memory have suffered cognitive deterioration after the confinement period. Additionally, new adaptation difficulties to education have emerged: anxiety became a significant trigger within the adolescent and even child educational landscape. This symptomatology impacted these functions, particularly working memory, due to anxiety caused by confinement, directly affecting reading and writing performance as they are key to processing.

Therefore, we must consider that today, psychopedagogical support is not limited exclusively to cognitive functions. It is essential to understand the relationship between emotional and cognitive factors that affect a child’s development. These factors constantly interact in the execution of their skills, directly reflecting on their performance. A clear example is the common situation of facing a difficult exam and experiencing what is popularly known as a «blank mind.» These paralysis symptoms, loss of control, and insecurity are nothing more than anxiety states caused by emotional symptoms, demonstrating how emotional management can facilitate or complicate the execution of our skills and the application of our knowledge.

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Current Challenges in the Educational Field

The educational context reflects what develops outside of it. After the confinement period, the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed significant challenges on the educational system:

1. Impact on the Socio-Demographic Framework:

The adaptation effort of education during the confinement period relied heavily on technological resources, which were limited for part of the school population. This lack of access has hindered the schooling period, reflecting predominantly negative effects on learning and development processes, especially in contexts with fewer economic and cultural resources. This period has further highlighted social inequity, exclusion, and educational barriers that many children and young people face, underscoring the importance of education from a more inclusive and equitable perspective.

2. Role of Teachers:

It is crucial for teachers to reflect on how they can contribute to reducing learning barriers, both cognitive and affective-motivational. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of supporting teachers and strengthening the pedagogical use of technological tools. However, there is the challenge of improving the effectiveness of training, as many teachers find it difficult to use new tools. It is necessary to promote training programs that facilitate the use of flexible strategies for a variety of students and teaching contexts. Masland’s (2021) proposal on resilient pedagogy, which meets psychological well-being needs such as autonomy, competence, and affiliation, can be an effective model to increase motivation and engagement.

3. Challenges for Parents:

Parents also face challenges, such as reviewing and modifying practices that negatively affect their children’s learning experiences. The current most prevalent issue is the excessive use of video games, cell phones, and television, which can exacerbate learning and development difficulties. Conversely, practices that promote reading, sports, and the arts should be encouraged, as they facilitate other types of learning and improve self-esteem and self-concept by developing competence strategies. Additionally, reward mechanisms are highly motivated by prizes, neglecting the practice of intrinsic motivation. The practice and discovery of this motivation foster more resilient development and improve frustration management.

4. Preparation of Educational Institutions:

Educational institutions must prepare for the return to classrooms with flexible mechanisms to design recovery and learning acceleration courses, as well as emotional support programs for students and teachers. It is essential to implement policies that allow reasonable adjustments so that students can equitably access resources and opportunities, evaluating possible losses in learning and development. These adjustments should seek to level students in cognitive, emotional, and social aspects.

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Future Lines of Action for Support Therapists

Given the current challenges in the educational field, it is essential for professionals to analyze new lines of action and reflect on the measures and practices implemented. The pandemic caused a readjustment of previously established routines, incorporating new methodologies and resources. It is crucial to critically evaluate how students are adapting to these changes. Some of these lines of action include:

  • Evaluating the Use of Technology: Investigating whether teachers' efforts to use and adapt to technology have facilitated effective knowledge construction processes and whether this benefits all students. It is important to adapt technology as a tool and not as the primary basis on which educational quality rests.
  • Sustainability of Adapted Practices: Examining to what extent changes and adjustments in teaching practices are maintained after returning to in-person learning. Developing a routine adapted to new student needs will be crucial for development.
  • Learning and Psychoeducation in the Family: Investigating the informal learning that has taken place in families during the pandemic and post-pandemic, identifying which of these are beneficial or harmful to cognitive, social, and emotional development. Professionals must guide and provide orientation in dynamics to promote improvement in different parenting styles and offer psychoeducation on new needs within the educational framework.
  • Experiences and Meanings of the Pandemic: Exploring students' experiences and the meaning of the pandemic and how it has affected them within the educational system to establish new support programs that improve their impact on learning.
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The pandemic has transformed the educational landscape, presenting challenges that require innovative and adaptive responses. Academic support therapists play a crucial role in this new context, helping students overcome cognitive and emotional barriers exacerbated by the health crisis. By reflecting on these new needs and adjusting our practices, we can work towards a more equitable, inclusive, and effective education for all students. The role of the therapist goes beyond cognitive reinforcement; they are the support link that will help steer in the same direction.

Written by:

Paula Taguas Labrador

Sinews, Hacemos Fácil lo Difícil
Sinews MTI
Multilingual Therapy Institute
Psychology, Psychiatry and Speech Therapy
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