The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 1.5 billion students worldwide, as schools were forced to close. In Australia, governmental advice varied significantly across states, encouraging more populous states such as Victoria and New South Wales to maintain home education for as long as possible. On the other hand, over states such as the Northern Territory were able to reopen schools sooner. Yet, school closures remain a frequent occurrence as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. As a result, some children may only be returning to school for the first time since March 2020. It is a stressful situation for all pupils. However, for students with learning difficulties, the prospect of going back to school can be a source of severe anxiety. What can parents do to ease the back-to-school stress and help their children?
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What are the causes of stress for students with learning disabilities?
First of all, it is important to understand the causes of anxiety among students with LDs. Even in a non-pandemic environment, students with learning disabilities are more prone to stress than their peers as they face confusing and challenging subjects. Students with dyscalculia, for instance, a math-related learning disability, report feeling more vulnerable in lessons that involve numbers, graphs, and charts. Therefore, they will be bringing this pre-existing anxiety back to school.
Learning at home has enabled some students to experiment with new learning paces and formats. If a student has made significant progress at home, they might be worried about losing the advantage of the virtual technology and the comfort of an at-home routine. The sudden change of routine when going back to school can be confusing and disorientating.
Schools are concerned about helping children catch up on the “missed education”. Students with learning disabilities may be worried about the education challenges if schools change the learning pace or programme. Additionally, at the start of a new school year, students often need some time to take their marks and get familiar with their new challenges. But for students with LDs, challenges can be overwhelming when combined with new school protocols.
Finally, new sources of anxiety arise in a new situation. Parents are naturally concerned about exposing their children to potential COVID-19 risks at school. Even if you don’t voice out your concerns, your child could be picking up on them. Parental anxiety can affect students with learning disabilities. Additionally, exposure to new information and new sources of information, such as the media, social media, friends, etc., can also aggravate stress.
Research the current school routine
Schools have introduced new policies to keep their students safe and support education as best as possible. It can be worth getting familiar with the current policies in place at your child’s school.
For instance, the classroom layout could have changed to reduce risk exposure. But the new layout could affect students with learning difficulties and isolate them from their friends and teachers.
Additionally, other COVID-19 safety measures can present challenges for students with LDs, as they can hinder communication and teaching practices. Besides, some students will be worried about the pandemic and feel uncomfortable in the presence of others, which can lead to further isolation and stress.
Understanding the physical challenges students face at school can help parents address their anxiety.
Introduce a mock first day to help release tension
Creating the right routine to go back to school in a post-pandemic environment is not easy. Students may need to develop a new routine that makes them feel safe during their commute and school day. It can be helpful to experiment with your child to figure out what helps them feel more confident.
Consider how your behaviour affects your child
As a parent, you need to consider how your fears and worries affect your child. Perhaps, you are unknowingly transmitting anxiety-driving messages when you discuss their education or the rising COVID-19 rates.
Set time to connect and talk
Many students with learning disabilities tend to keep their anxiety bottled up, affecting their temperament and attitude. It’s important to provide your girl with an opportunity to open up about their fears safely. Ask them how their day was or how they feel about going back to school. It can take time to build up a conversation. But don’t give up when they don’t immediately answer. They also need time to understand their own fears and feelings and to feel comfortable talking about them.
Address remaining fears with teachers of students with learning disabilities
It can be helpful to approach teachers for advice. Teachers are willing to help children cope with the new situation, so you can work together to ease their anxiety. It is also worth asking about extra education support or assistive technology that can help students with learning disabilities adjust to the new learning pace. Making learning more manageable can also help with anxiety management.
In conclusion, back-to-school stress is unavoidable in a post-pandemic situation. For students with LDs, high stress can present new learning challenges. Therefore, parents and teachers can play a crucial role in creating a safe, manageable, and open routine where children can feel comfortable learning and talking about their emotions.