Supporting Anxious Children
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Supporting Anxious Neuroatypical Kids at School

Imagine a student who is the epitome of decorum and respect in school, but at home, they transform into a whirlwind of emotions. This scenario is not uncommon for neurodiverse children who often remain unnoticed in educational environments. They are like hidden icebergs, their struggles concealed beneath the surface, invisible to those unfamiliar with their circumstances.

 

These children often employ a strategy known as ‘masking’, where they exert significant mental energy to conceal their difficulties. Sometimes it’s a conscious effort; other times, it’s an instinctive defense mechanism. Their objective? To blend in, to appear ‘normal’, to avoid being singled out.

 

Unfortunately, neurodiverse children are more susceptible to mental health issues. So, how can we support them? Let’s delve into some strategies.

 

Building Bridges of Empathy

 

The first step is fostering open communication between parents and educators. Parents should feel comfortable discussing their child’s challenges, assured that they will be heard and understood. Predictability, structure, and routine are vital, as these children often struggle with ambiguity or uncertainty. This proactive approach can help alleviate some of their anxiety.

 

Children need a roadmap for their day. With multiple transition points requiring cognitive shifts and various demands - sensory, social, organizational, academic - throughout the day, we can help ease these pressures both before and during the school day.

 

Practical Strategies for Support

 

  • Preparation for the School Day: Encourage readiness for the day ahead by packing things the night before. Rushing these children can lead to a chaotic morning, so save time by planning ahead.

  • Clarify the Day’s Routine: Set expectations for what they can do independently if they need a break. For example, they could have a quiet reading corner to retreat to when things get overwhelming.

  • Regular Check-ins with an Adult: Regular check-ins can help identify potential stressors. Prevention is better than dealing with a conflict in the heat of the moment. For example, if a child is anxious about an upcoming group activity, discussing it beforehand can help alleviate their worries.

  • Physical Structure and Colour Coding: Visual cues can help prepare kids for upcoming stages and reduce their concern about what to do next. For example, different coloured folders for different subjects can help them stay organized.

  • Delineate Areas Clearly: Separate calm sensory zones from work areas. For instance, a cozy corner with soft cushions can serve as a sensory zone, distinct from the desk used for academic work.

  • Reduce Clutter: Encourage everyone to keep their work areas clutter-free. A clean, organized space can help reduce sensory overload.

  • Have Whole Class Breaks: Regular breaks can help all students recharge and refocus. This could be a short stretching session or a quick game.

  • Have Work Sheets as Uniform as Possible: Consistency is key. Avoid changing the format of worksheets without warning, as this can cause unnecessary stress.

  • Try Doing a Sensory Audit with the Kid: Involve the child in assessing how they experience the space. This could involve discussing the classroom’s lighting, noise levels, or seating arrangements.

  • Creative Support: Some kids may need creative ways to express their need for help. This could be a special card they hand to the teacher when they’re feeling overwhelmed.

  • Transitions at End of Day: Allow neurodiverse kids more time to pack by letting them start a little earlier. Important instructions should be given in a calm, clear manner, not shouted over a noisy classroom.

  • For Homework, Down Time Might Be Needed: Establish a routine for homework that includes downtime. This could be a few minutes of relaxation exercises before starting homework.

  • Neurodiverse Kids Can Have Similar Interests to Neurotypical Kids: They may find themselves on the outside of big groups. It’s important they receive support and guidance from teachers or aides. Use their small number of friendships for structured school work, rather than trying to get them to participate in larger groups.

  • Note Asking Kids to Find a Partner Can Be Really Stressful for Them: They may need support in these situations, so be mindful of this.

  • Support Them to Develop Their Toolbox of Strategies and Skills: This could include teaching them relaxation techniques or problem-solving skills.

  • Remember Small Changes Can Have Outsized Effects: Even a small change, like allowing a child to use headphones to block out noise, can have a significant impact on their comfort and productivity.

  • Listen to Parents, Seek Their Advice on What Strategies Work at Home, Co-work is Key: Parents can provide valuable insights into what strategies work best for their child.

 

Supporting neurodiverse children is a journey, not a destination. It requires patience, understanding, and a willingness to adapt. But the rewards - seeing these children thrive and succeed - are well worth the effort. Remember, every child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. The key is to keep trying, keep learning, and keep believing in their potential. Because every child deserves the chance to shine.

 

Afterword

 

We have explored the challenges faced by neurodiverse children and the strategies that can assist them. We have also highlighted the alignment of these strategies with the course offered at Huddle Wisdom, which focuses on helping parents navigate anxiety with their kids (www.huddlewisdom.com/foundationsofconnection)

 

 

 

 

The course at Huddle Wisdom could serve as an excellent resource for parents and educators seeking to connect better with neurodiverse children. It could provide further insights into effectively implementing the strategies mentioned in the article, such as encouraging transparent communication, creating predictable routines, and providing tangible assistance. Moreover, it could delve deeper into the importance of empathy, understanding, and patience when dealing with neurodiverse children.

 

Furthermore, the course could offer additional resources and support for parents and educators, helping them feel less alone and more connected in their journey of supporting neurodiverse children.

 

The journey of supporting neurodiverse children is a continuous one, requiring patience, understanding, and a willingness to adapt. But the rewards - seeing these children thrive and succeed - are well worth the effort. Remember, every child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another.

 

The key is to keep trying, keep learning, and keep believing in their potential. Because every child deserves the chance to shine.

 

References

1. Huddle Wisdom: Parents Helping Kids With Anxiety. (https://podcasts.apple.com/nz/podcast/huddle-wisdom-parents-helping-kids-with-anxiety/id1617941789).

2. ‎Huddle Wisdom: Parents Helping Kids With Anxiety: Episode 093: The Day .... (https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/episode-093-the-day-i-abandoned-my-child/id1617941789?i=1000651471911).

3. Episode 092: The path to resilience for kids with anxiety. (https://nzpod.co.nz/podcast/the-huddle-wisdom-podcast/episode-092-the-path-to-resilience-for-kids-with-a).

4. Foundations of Connection. (https://www.huddlewisdom.com/foundationsofconnection).

5. Practice. (https://www.huddlewisdom.com/practice).

 

Turmoil into Tranquility?

 

Meltdowns overwhelming you?

 

You’re not alone. Many of us parents grapple with our kids' intense outbursts, feeling a mix of frustration, helplessness, and guilt.

There is hope.

 

You can learn to guide your child through their storms with greater ease and assurance, forging a deeper connection in the process.

Let me show you what I mean.

 

Join me in the complimentary video/lecture ‘Navigating Meltdowns: Aiding Your Child and Yourself Amidst Emotional Highs,’ where you’ll gain insights on:

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This guidance is drawn from my dual expertise as both a parent and a psychiatrist.

Seize the chance to access a treasure trove of wisdom at no cost.

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