18 Apr 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.