Teachers often have students with ASD in their classrooms who appear anxious throughout their school day. These students can have such intense anxiety that it can disrupt the entire classroom , or even the cafeteria or an all school assembly. No teacher, parent or student for that matter wants to experience those anxious moments. Teachers would always rather see their students having successful, meaningful and fun experiences at school and want to provide their students with ASD the proper supports. There is much that can be done pro-actively to enable students to feel more in control and safe in their learning environments. Simple steps can be taken to increase positive learning.
The Children's Center on OCD and Anxiety (2009) believes that students with ASD do their best work in a classroom that is calm, supportive, and organized. Some sample classroom accommodations for students who are anxious can include:
- Seating Within the Classroom: where the student most engaged in the class activities and least engaged with rowdy classmates?
- Following Directions: have written directions on the board or elsewhere so they are clear and visible to all. Give a signal before giving important instructions.
- Class Participation: know the student's strengths with responding; do they do better with yes/no questions or with opinion questions? Create a signal to let the student know his or her turn is coming and provide opportunity for the student so share knowledge on areas where there student is confident. Class Presentations: can the student present to the teacher only or audio tape the presentation?
- Answering Questions at the Board: can the student be exempt from this activity or is there another way for them to be involved. Simply writing the information on the board and then sitting down before the material is analyzed?
- Testing Conditions: having extended time or taking the test in another quiet, distraction free room is helpful. The use of word banks or equations sheets can also cue the student who may ‘blank out' due to anxiety when tested.
- Lunchroom/Recess/Unstructured Activities: using peers as lunchroom buddies or recess pals for younger students and peer mentors for older students can ease the fear of rejection. Avoid child choice in a classroom when groups are being formed, teachers can appoint or use ‘counting off' or some other technique to eliminate the ‘last person chosen' situation.
- Safe Person: this can be anyone in the school who can provide an understanding and calming presence for the student, someone who understands the student's worries and anxieties is best.
- Cool Down Pass: for those students who become overly anxious and may not ask for a break in front of classmates, a pre-determined card can be placed on the student's desk by the observant teacher, or the student can place it on the teacher's desk when in need of a break. The break may also be pre-determined; perhaps they get a drink, talk to their safe person, or take a short walk in the halls.
- Assemblies/Large Group Activities: thoughtful seating selection for the anxious student is imperative to decrease anxiety. Seating at the back of an auditorium or on the end of a row to allow for time away are both helpful.
- Return After Illness: anxiety can increase with the amount of work missed during an absence. Having notes copied from the lessons missed can help as well as having the option to use time in class to complete make up work during the day.
- Field Trips: prepare the students for the trip by giving all the details necessary in visual form as well as verbal. Place the student in a group with the teacher or other familiar adult at the destination.
- Change in Routine/Substitute Teachers: let the child and child's family know of any major change in routine in order to process the change. It is also useful for the student to know the teacher will be returning to the classroom.
- Fire/Safety Drills: social stories about fire drills, sometimes accompanied by an audio tape of the sound played quietly can help the student understand what will happen when a drill occurs. Some students who are highly anxious may need to have a signal from the teacher that the alarm will sound to eliminate the surprise factor.
- Homework expectations: give the class an estimate of how much time each homework assignment will take, assign every other math problem, reduce reading and writing assignments, allow books on tape, and allow alternative methods for answering in lieu of written responses.
(Adapted from WorryWiseKids.org)
Davis, K (2012) Anxiety and panic struggles. Retrieved from Anxiety and panic struggles