Anxiety in children affects as many as 6 million kids and in a society filled with school shootings, COVID and daily uncertainty, it is certainly on the rise. In fact, 7 out of 10 teens report anxiety to be a major problem. Anxiety is defined as intense agitation filled with tension and dread. It is not the same for each person but those who suffer from anxiety tend to experience similar physical and emotional characteristics.
Children suffering from an anxiety disorders usually demonstrate the following symptoms:
Anxiety in children is not the same thing as being afraid. Fear is specific and definable. For example, a child experiencing fear may say, “I’m afraid of the dark.” Anxiety is vague, non-specific and intangible. A child experiencing anxiety may say, “I’m afraid” but not know exactly what they are afraid of. A child with anxiety has a mind full of doubt and “what if's.”
Anxiety in school becomes a problem when it disrupts your child’s ability to function in daily life. This includes their ability to go to school, refusal to go to school, unable to finish assignments, lack of friends, limited social growth and underachievement.
No one is really sure what causes anxiety in children. However, the answer probably lies in one of three theories or a mixture.
1. Heredity: Anxiety disorders tend to run in families. The cause may be biological, genetic or environmental.
2. Biological: People who experience anxiety may have a chemical imbalance in the brain which causes the brain to send faulty messages activating the fight or flight mechanism.
3. Personality Type: Children with anxiety tend to have a personality that is creative and imaginative with vivid mental images. They also tend to be perfectionists. It's possible that the attempt to achieve unrealistic goals and an over focus on minor mistakes results in a perpetual state of anxiousness.
Children with anxiety require education. If your child is experiencing anxiety, it is important not to yell, tease or demean them for their anxious thoughts and behaviors. Also, if you yourself are outwardly anxious, your behavior will feed into your child’s anxiety and perpetuate the problem.
So, what can you do?
ANXIETY in CHILDREN and SPECIAL EDUCATION:
Just like ADD/ADHD, anxiety by itself is not considered a qualifying condition for special education, unless it is severe enough to warrant a label of Other Health Impaired.
However, anxiety in children is covered under Section 504 of the American Disabilities Act and your child can receive modifications and accommodations in their classroom through a 504 plan. Examples of accommodations include extra time on tests, taking exams in an alternative setting, alternative homework assignments or adjustments in their school day. Another common modification is for them to have a special hall pass to go to a safe place and person in case they experience a panic attack during the school day.
If your child is experiencing anxiety and it is affecting their performance in school, you should schedule a meeting with your school’s Student Study Team (SST) so the team can evaluate your child’s situation and make a recommendation for school success.
If a child with an IEP for a learning disaiblity also has anxiety issues, social and emotional goals should be included in their IEP along with their academic goals. These may include: