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Episode 10: Mental health and specific learning difficulties with Kirrilie Smout

In this episode, we chat with clinical psychologist Kirrilie Smout about the emotional challenges of living with specific learning difficulties. Kirrilie gives expert advice for parents and teachers on how to set kids up for success and support them when things get tough.

Watch episode 10 on YouTube

About Kirrilie

Kirrilie is a clinical Psychologist, member of the Australian Psychological Society and of the College of Clinical Psychologists. She has a First Class psychology Honours degree and a Masters degree in Clinical psychology, both awarded from Flinders University of SA. She has worked as a psychologist for 25 years with in several different community health and private settings, with a variety of client groups, although predominantly with children, teens and families.

Today Kirrilie is the director of Developing Minds Psychology and provides supervision to the team of child and adolescent psychologists who work with her there.  She also provides seminars and training for young people, teachers, health professionals and schools around Australia (and has presented to over 50,000 families over the last two decades). 

 Kirrilie has received a number of state and national awards, grants and prizes for her speaking, research and consultancy work, and for the work conducted by Developing Minds. She is regularly consulted by print, radio and TV media in relation to psychological issues and has numerous articles published in a variety of newspapers and journals.  She has written three books about and for young people, is the developer of the online program Calm Kid Central, and is the SA convenor of the Child, Adolescent and Family Interest group for the SA chapter of the Australian Psychological Society.

Kirrilie is also an AHPRA approved psychologist supervisor and has presented to other psychologists at several APS national conferences, and state clinical college workshops.

Kirrilie is currently not taking on any new clients, however for information about her training, consultancy or supervision services, please email her practice manager Amy at or to contact Kirrilie directly email her at

Show notes

Not keeping up at school and feeling like you aren’t able to do what the other kids can do is soul-destroying for young people. It’s also incredibly hard for those who care for them, most obviously parents and caregivers, but also educators who are in the lives of kids who struggle to learn to read, spell and do maths.

In this episode, we sit down with Kirrilie Smout, in our minds, one of Australia’s leading clinical child/adolescent psychologists and the director of Developing Minds. With the benefit of Kirrilie’s down to earth style, well-researched opinions, years of experience and incredible humanity, we delve into a range of issues that clutter the already complex landscape of being a kid with learning difficulties or parenting / teaching one.

When Life Sucks for Kids

One of Kirrilie’s books “When Life Sucks for Kids” is the centerpiece for this episode and sets us off on an incredibly interesting conversation about all sorts of stuff, including:

  • The very real correlation between having an SLD and mental health difficulties – is it fate that a kid with SLDs will have an associated mental health problem?
  • How to talk with young people about the challenges and strengths that come with an SLD and how to remain believable when trying to keep kids buoyant
  • Fostering hope for the future but also being frank and honest about the challenges ahead
  • Understanding mood, its impact on learning and cleverly helping kids to regulate mood to best set them up for work that is going to be challenging (like homework)
  • Talking to kids about the importance of hard work and struggle in building a strong and flexible brain
  • The importance of peer-connection for kids with learning difficulties and balancing homework and a social life
  • What to consider when deciding on whether to use tough-love or to back off for a bit – balancing empathy and toughness
  • School refusal – the slippery slope
  • The mental health implications of parenting a kid who will at times feel hopeless, helpless and like it’s all too hard.

During the episode, Kirrilie makes mention of two studies. Both are not freely accessible but there is a link to the abstract

Boyes, M. E., Leitao, S., Claessen, M., Badcock, N. A., & Nayton, M. (2016).

Why Are Reading Difficulties Associated with Mental Health Problems? 

Dyslexia, 22(3), 263–266.

Penner, L. A., Cline, R. J. W., Albrecht, T. L., Harper, F. W. K., Peterson, A. M., Taub, J. M., &

Ruckdeschel, J. C. (2008).

Parents’ Empathic Responses and Pain and Distress in Pediatric Patients. 

Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 30(2), 102–113.

‌In the context of how working hard on something makes your brain stronger, Kirrilie mentioned a YouTube clip showing brain cells connecting when a person thinks differently. This also happens when we work really hard at something, and the more we work at it, the stronger a new connection between brain cells becomes, eventually meaning that you become so practiced at that new skill, it no longer feels hard and can feel rewarding! Here’s the link:


Where to get some help

Calm Kid Central is a wonderful resource that had been developed by Kirrilie and the staff at Developing Minds. It contains over 25 interactive and animated educational lessons for children to learn to: cope with frustration, manage anxiety, improve peer relationships, manage conflict constructively, help themselves get to sleep, use calm words, re-direct their attention onto positive topics, ask for help – and many more.

Kid’s Helpline 1800 55 1800 can also be a wonderful help when young people just need someone to talk to – any time, for any reason.



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