Anxiety in School

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Anxiety in School

“Gimme a break, literally!”

Our daughter Tess (who has been diagnosed with PDD) is in the 3rd grade. Tess is currently in a public elementary school and starts her day in a self-contained classroom. She then goes to inclusive classes for her academic and special subjects.

I remember when we thought it was a “great day” when Tess would stay in the classroom as long as the other “typical” kids.  We would praise her if she was able to stick it out for the full hour or more.   Some days she could and some days she couldn’t.  But, as the work got more challenging, so did her behavior in class and she needed to leave the room more frequently.

Tess also realized that her negative behaviors did the trick!  It got her out of doing the work.  Finally, after trying different reward systems and anything else we could think of, her therapists and teachers thought what Tess really needed was a way to take breaks, but not escape the assignments. We also felt that the breaks needed to be filled with desirable activities. It gives her something fun to work toward in class!   We added more “built-in” breaks for specific classes (in her case, Reading and Math) because those classes really make her anxious.

The plan is this: Tess knows she has these “built-in” breaks coming. She knows when they are and she knows how long they last. They last 3-5 minutes, at the same time of day, at least four times a day.  Tess is allowed some control in how she wants to spend her break time.

The other key component to this plan is to chart her behavior.  We use computer programs that help the teachers and therapists keep track of the data and put it into charts. These show us patterns and tell us if the plan is having the desired effect. It definitely keeps us going in the right direction. The system is not getting rid of Tess’ anxieties and there are variables (such as a snow delay which throws off the whole schedule) that can affect the outcome, but we are seeing lots of progress.  So far, the data is showing us that Tess has improved the amount and the quality of her time in the classroom by having regularly scheduled breaks built into her day and that’s great news.

The other part of the equation is to make the breaks fun so it gives Tess the motivation to complete a certain amount of work in class. She always gets a break, but if she meets her goals then she gets a “preferred” break. We really tried to think outside the box for this one by adding choices of playing a Nintendo DS game to blowing bubbles to allowing Tess to text mom or dad and receive a message back. She even made a short movie at her locker using our Flip camera.

Tess still gets anxious about school as do many children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. She struggles with communication delays and processing speed. She does, however, look forward to these breaks…and most of the time they are her incentive to get the work done with a more positive attitude.

Our family thanks the staff at The Chatsworth School, a Baltimore County public school, Toria Campbell, Tess’ aide and the therapists at The Shafer Center for Early Intervention in Reisterstown, Maryland.

  • Marisa Schomisch
    Posted at 20:06h, 21 April Reply

    I love the new site MB! Congrats! What a great video, hope there are more to come!

    • Mary Beth Marsden
      Posted at 12:30h, 22 April Reply

      Thanks Marisa! We’ll have a new video up in a week or so.

  • anonymous
    Posted at 13:07h, 22 April Reply

    wow, really good stuff…

    hope to see more…

  • Andy Parsley
    Posted at 13:13h, 28 April Reply

    What a wonderful opportunity for sharing and learning! Thank you for creating such a positive, useful website!

  • Laura Maguire
    Posted at 00:19h, 29 April Reply

    This site is incredible, as are Tess’ teacher and aide! I love the positive vibe, and the progress that your beautiful girl has made! Can’t wait to see this site grow and help millions of families, whatever their stage in the journey.

  • Karen Baer
    Posted at 23:26h, 01 May Reply

    Wow, Mary Beth! What a great site. Thanks for sharing. I plan to share this with my girl’s case manager. Great stuff!

  • Tracy Hooper
    Posted at 23:30h, 01 May Reply

    MB, What a powerful way to help parents not feel so alone in their journey with their precious children. I will share with other friends, parents and educators in the Pacific Northwest. Tracy Hooper

  • Trauma F Newell
    Posted at 20:37h, 04 May Reply

    I saw the video of your daughter Tess, she reminds me of my daughter Alanis. My daughter Alanis was diagnosed with ASD/PDD as well. Alanis was the same way Tess was when it came to struggling with her work. Alanis would get so frustrated once things became harder for her to understand. God Bless you and your daughter. Checkout my Blog at

    • Mary Beth Marsden
      Posted at 00:29h, 05 May Reply

      Thanks for sharing and I will check out your blog!

  • Lanning
    Posted at 21:30h, 09 May Reply

    What a beautiful tribute to the experience you are having with Tess. She is a real trouper and so cute! Your site is so impressive, I can’t wait to share it with a very special student that I have this year. I know his aide will appreciate it too! Keep up the great work.

  • Cheri Jordan
    Posted at 01:47h, 25 May Reply

    Miss Tess reminds us so much of our son Charlie who was diagnosed 8 months ago with PDD-NOS. He will be starting Kindergarten this fall and we look forward to learning more as parenting goes to keep him involved and enthusiastic. Thanks for the videos!

  • Julie Brusio
    Posted at 02:38h, 08 July Reply

    Tess is awesome! She is a spunky, hard-working kid! She reminds me of my daughter Debbie who is 8 and also on the spectrum. We live in Sykesville and Debbie goes to her home school, Linton Springs Elem. She has a one-on-one who is amazing and through her support and the support of the amazing teaching staff we have built a program for Debbie that is similar to the one you have built for Tess! Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Linda
    Posted at 17:58h, 10 July Reply

    Hi MaryBeth, I am a friend of Shari’s from college and she gave me your web site info. I love it!
    My son was also diagnosed with PDD NOS, at the age of 4. I was hoping to find out what type of services Tess had entering kindergarten? We are currently going to mediation with Mont Co, as they are only offering him 5 hours of special ed support per week, and want to place him in a typical kindergarten class of 25 with only 1 teacher and part time aide. Yikes!

  • Janice
    Posted at 15:08h, 07 January Reply

    I watched this video of Tess months ago. Recently, a family friend of mine shared that her 4 yr old son seemed to have some of the same characteristics of autism that Tess has. I shared this video and my friend said that was like her son. Thanks to you and Tess! This video may have just helped this family move forward in getting the help that is needed for their son to succeed!

    • mbmarsden
      Posted at 02:04h, 08 January Reply

      Thanks Janice. I’m so happy to hear the videos have helped in some way. If you want to tell your friends this…Tess is making some really good progress. Tell them to hang in there and keep throwing the therapies and strategies his way. All the best!

  • Gilly Babb
    Posted at 15:18h, 28 April Reply

    Mary Beth,
    You and Mark are remarkable parents. There is no doubt that many of the strides that Tess has made are due in large part to your love, patience, perseverance and compassion. It was wonderful seeing Tess succeeding in the classroom!!

    • mbmarsden
      Posted at 11:32h, 29 April Reply

      Gilly, thanks so much and thanks for watching!!xx

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