For some Aspergers (high functioning autistic) children, school can be a tense and fearsome place. Kids with special needs in particular may have problems understanding what is expected of them. They may (a) face painful social exclusion, and (b) find the work confusing and stressful.
As a mother or father, your instinct is to charge in on a white horse and slay those dragons. But often, a listening ear, a sympathetic word, and a reassuring pat on the back will be a bigger help.
10 Tips for Reducing School Anxiety—
1. Understand the value of tears. Crying can be a great stress reliever. It flushes out bad feelings and eases tension. It's hard to see your Aspergers youngster crying, and your first instinct may be to help him stop as soon as possible. But after the tears have all come out, your youngster may be in a particularly open and receptive mood for talking and sharing. Provide a soothing and sympathetic presence, but let the crying run its course.
2. Set a regular time and place for talking with your youngster, whether in the car, on a walk, during mealtimes, or just before bed. Some children will feel most comfortable in a cozy private space with your undivided attention, but others might welcome some sort of distraction to cut the intensity of sharing their feelings.
3. Resist the urge to fix everything. There are some instances in which moms and dads do have to take action. If your Aspergers youngster is in a class that's too challenging, or is having trouble because an IEP isn't being followed, there are steps you can take. If an educator or peer is truly harassing your youngster, you will want to follow up with that. But you'll also want to teach him that some things in life just have to be dealt with, even though they stink. Fix only what's really badly broken.
4. Know when to get help. Most Aspergers kids experience school anxiety to some extent, and some feel it more deeply and disruptively. When does it become a big enough problem to require professional help? Some signs to look for are major changes in friendships, style of clothing, music preferences, sleeping and eating habits, attitude and behavior. If you've established a good rapport with your youngster and he suddenly doesn't want to talk, that's a sign of trouble as well.
5. Keep the lines of communication open. Let your Aspergers youngster know that he can always talk to you, no matter what. It's not always necessary even to have solutions to his problems. Sometimes just talking about things out loud with a trusted grown-up makes them seem less threatening. And if the situation does become overwhelming for your youngster, you want to be the first to know about it.
6. Do some role-playing. Once you have some concrete examples of anxiety-provoking events, help your youngster figure out an alternate way to deal with them. Discuss possible scenarios and play the part of your youngster in some role-playing exercises, letting him play the part of the demanding teacher or bullying classmate. Model appropriate and realistic responses and coping techniques for your youngster.
7. Be aware that nearly all Aspergers children feel anxiety about school, even the ones who seem successful and carefree. Knowing this won't lessen your youngster's anxiety, but it may lessen yours.
8. Ask, "What three things are you most worried about?" Making your request specific can help your youngster start to sort through a bewildering array of fears and feelings. If he's unable to name the things that are most worrisome, have him tell you any three things, or the most recent three things.
9. Ask, "What three things are you most excited about?" Most children can think of something good, even if it's just going home at the end of the day. But, chances are your youngster does have things he really enjoys about school that simply get drowned-out by all the scary stuff. Bring those good things out into the light.
10. Acknowledge the problem. Does hearing, "Don't worry!" help when you're anxious about something? It probably doesn't comfort your Aspergers youngster much, either. The most important thing you can do for an "Aspie" student experiencing school anxiety is to acknowledge that his fears are real to him. If nothing else, you'll ensure that he won't be afraid to talk to you about them.