Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Beat the Jitters: Danette Schott's "Special Needs Kids and Anxiety Over the Start of School"

Continuing our series of posts concerning back-to-school tips and tools, today's post is by Danette Schott of S-O-S Research.

Special Needs Kids and Anxiety Over the Start of School

by Danette Schott

Your child's response to the start of school will depend on his age and personality. A young child is typically excited to go do what the big kids do. Older kids are usually crabby at the thought of giving up their lazy, lounging summer days and moving back into the grind of homework and exams.
But what about the child with special needs? Although many kids may encounter anxiety over the start of school, it would make sense that a higher number of special needs children face this at an increased level.
Many special needs kids need to experience something many, many times before they can build a comfort level. Your child may be entering 8th grade, but all that means is that they have only started a new school year about eight times. This is hardly enough time for many of our kids to acquire a comfort level.
Also, the last time our kids went through a first day of school was probably about 365 days ago. Enough time has elapsed to have erased this experience from their memory.
So what exactly are our kids worrying about and how can we help alleviate some of their concerns?
  1. New Grade. It doesn't have to be a new school to bring on anxiety. Just a new grade is enough to set off the alarm bells. Kids worry about who will be in their class, will they like their new teacher, and how will things work in general. The best thing to do is to talk with your child. Let your child express his concerns and confirm for him that other kids are feeling similar things.
  2. Academic Difficulties. Kids who struggle academically will obviously worry about whether or not they will be able to handle the new demands. Last year probably seemed hard enough. How can they possibly do more? Reassure your child that she will learn things one step at a time. You are there to help and she will also have the support of her teacher.
  3. Friends. Friendships are difficult for many special needs kids. Some of them take all school year to find a place to fit and then they have to start all over again in the new school year. Provide your child with the guidance she needs to work on her social skills. S-O-S Step by Step ( offers over 100 free resources on social skills that will help you do this.
  4. Growing Up. As our kids get older, they know that life is becoming more complex. Starting a new grade may symbolize that they are growing up and that there will be increased demands. Set some goals for your child. Point at the advantages to being in a new grade, along with the new expectations. Pick a couple of new things that you and your child can work on to move her towards increased responsibility and acknowledging that she is getting older.
As your child gets into her new school year, her anxiety should decrease as she adjusts to the new expectations. If her level of anxiety persists, talk with her teacher and the school psychologist or counselor. Continue to talk with your child and stay on top of her feelings. The more positive things she accomplishes, the more her anxiety will subside.

BioDanette Schott, M.A., is founder of S-O-S Research (, a small research company providing information on "invisible" special needs for parents, teachers, and other professionals, and the editor of Help! S-O-S for Parents blog ( providing free information on the same topics.

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