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Apart from the challenge of getting through their everyday life with their learning difficulty, children with learning difficulties also have to cope with anxiety. They may not look like it but these children often feel very vulnerable. They experience a lot of fear and distress over their learning difficulty. Some of them may cope well but others may have a hard time coping with it. Sometimes, when they act up and misbehave, we misunderstand it as a behavioural or attitude problem. What we may not understand is that all of these so-called ‘behavioural or attitude problems’ are often triggered by their anxiety.
Anxiety is not something that you can easily notice. Sometimes, you may not even have the slightest idea that your child is suffering from it. In order to understand and give proper guidance about their condition, it is important to look at the root cause of their anxiety.
In a study by Linda Houston et al, she and her colleagues examined children with learning difficulties who suffer from anxiety and they managed to identify some of the signs to watch for in order to identify whether a child with learning difficulties is suffering from anxiety (Houston, Lecours, Landry, & Émond, 2016):
- Struggles in planning and performing tasks
- Constantly seeking for assurance
- Keeps fidgeting in their seat
- Difficulty in focusing, concentrating or remembering
- Makes excuses and tries to avoid doing unfamiliar tasks
- Easily destabilized by a change in routine or schedule
- Hesitant to step outside of established routines
- Physical signs of discomfort (perspiring, trembling, palpitations)
- Not showing signs of listening to the answers to their questions
- Extreme perfectionism in their task
- Somatic complaints (health-related excuses)
- Asking the same questions repeatedly
- Rigidity (resistance to change)
In order to help them cope with anxiety, here are some things that Debbie Hopper suggests that you can consider (Hopper, 2018):
Creating a sensory safe space for people with anxiety can help them loosen up as it allows them to be able to retreat to a safe physical space when they need a bit of time out. A sensory safe space can be anywhere at home. You can create a tent, a little nook or space in the bedroom or playroom where your child feels safe and comfortable.
Children with learning difficulties who are suffering from anxiety need people whom they can trust. Their anxiety may cause them to struggle in making friends or getting along with other children. That is why they need to be surrounded by people whom they feel safe with. An adequate support system is very important in order to provide the love and comfort that they need.
- Sensory toys and familiar objects
Some children have a precious toy that they always carry around. These toys are able to help the child to ‘zone out’ of a stressful situation by focusing on the toy instead of the situation. These ‘comfort’ toys are very helpful in calming and making them less anxious.
- Weighted blankets
One of the most comforting things to do when your child is being anxious is to give them a hug. An alternative to that is a weighted blanket that also gives them a feeling of a ‘deep’ hug. The added bonus of using a weighted blanket is that the child is able to receive a deep hug without the direct involvement of a person. This means that the child does not have to give up their personal space in order to receive a hug.
- Teaching kids about feelings
Lastly, explain to them what emotions are and how to manage them. Teaching them how to cope with their feelings is good for their emotional well-being. Make them understand that their feelings are valid and give them assurance and support to help reduce their anxiety.
Hopper, D. (2018, February 14). Helping Kids With Anxiety. Retrieved from Life Skills 4 Kids: https://www.lifeskills4kids.com.au/helping-kids-with-anxiety/
Houston, L., Lecours, G., Landry, N., & Émond, M. (2016, March 4). Strategies to Support Students with Learning Disabilities who Experience Anxiety. Retrieved from LD@school: https://www.ldatschool.ca/strategies-to-support-students-with-learning-disabilities-who-experience-anxiety/