It’s commonly known that kids with learning disabilities have far more anxiety than their peers. This only makes sense. When the simple act of learning causes distress, a child’s world can crumble. To make matters worse, learning is their main “job” and what they are judged the most harshly over – think report cards.
Compassion is the first step toward making this situation better. But it’s often difficult for parents and teachers to understand if they haven’t struggled with a learning difference.
Awareness is the next step to helping your child overcome anxiety that might be related to a learning disability. Once you both have the big elephant in the living room exposed, then a plan can be made for healing.
And finally, taking the pressure off the child will help alleviate anxiety more than you’d ever imagine!
Following are six ways that anxiety can present itself to a child with a learning issue:
School will be uncomfortable in general – not a place this child wants to be. Six or seven hours might feel like a death sentence to a child with a learning issue. For many kids, just sitting for long stretches alone can cause physical distress. Add in the learning disability, and it can cause a lot more than anxiety!
The fight-or-flight response kicks in when your child is struggling to learn. This in turn, freezes learning. Anxiety becomes the norm when a child is in fight-or-flight, and when that “lizard brain” takes over, the child feels threatened over almost everything.
Some children withdraw when anxious, and this makes learning as well as communication with peers and teachers difficult.
Other kids might act out and throw tantrums when anxious and nervous. They’re trying to tell us that something is wrong in their world; they just don’t have the words or vocabulary to suitably convey this problem to us. Of course, this adds to the vicious cycle, and the child is often labeled as a behavior problem on top of it all.
It’s difficult for working memory to function properly when a child is anxious. Working memory allows the child to temporarily hold a limited amount of information available to use for processes such as learning, solving problems, and other skills a student is expected to know during a school day – and even after school for homework.
Avoidance issues appear when a child is struggling with anxiety. If you’ve ever listened to your child give you fifteen or more excuses about starting homework or writing that essay, anxiety may be part of the reason.
I recently found out my adult daughter has been plagued with anxiety for most of her life. She was extremely good at covering it up. One day she confessed to me that she would leave her house and go back to check on the coffee pot around thirty times before heading off to work.
She said she couldn’t remember not being anxious – and she displayed little or no outward signs of it. As a mother, I felt crushed that I had missed out on this. And she was an honor student with a college degree! Learning had always been so easy for her. We talked about it a lot, she had a few counseling sessions that gave her coping tools, and she’s doing so much better now.
That awareness is what made the difference for her. And now I know to be a little more sensitive when I say things to her – something that can be hard for a parent of a grown child.
Just remember – there’s always hope. Anxiety is a feeling – one that’s real and can devastate a life. But it’s treatable. By taking pressure off her shoulders, I found that my daughter could flourish! Your child can, too.