By: Erin Gibbons, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Anxiety disorders are becoming more and more common among children and adolescents. Recent data from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported that 31.9% of adolescents between 13-19 have an identified anxiety disorder. Although fewer statistics are available, it is clear that students who have a developmental, learning, or attention disorder are at high risk for developing clinically significant anxiety in light of their struggles with academics, learning, and/or social development. Given the rising numbers of affected children and adolescents, it has become increasingly important that a student’s emotional health is addressed both at home through private counseling, as well as through the provision of school-based services. When students experience a high level of unmitigated anxiety throughout the day, they are less able to learn and meet their potential.
When parents are seeking services for anxiety through their school system, there are different levels of support. First, teachers can provide classroom supports and address emotional health with all students, whether or not they have an identified anxiety disorder. Some examples of useful classroom strategies include:
- Create predictable routines and clear expectations.
- Provide warnings about upcoming transitions.
- Have a “cool down space” available in the classroom or another room in the school.
- Incorporate movement into lessons throughout the day.
There are also programs designed to address emotional regulation that can be used throughout the school or district. For example:
If these supports are not sufficient to meet a student’s needs, then it is necessary to develop goals through the IEP process. In order to make needed progress, it is important that the goals and benchmarks in the IEP are specific. For example, a benchmark might state: “Johnny will show better emotional regulation in stressful situations.” A more specific benchmark might state: “When Johnny starts to shut down or refuse to participate during a math class, he will identify his current emotion(s) in 4 out of 5 opportunities.”
When parents seek supports for their child’s anxiety through the IEP, they should consider whether their child needs accommodations, specialized instruction or both.
Examples of accommodations for anxiety include:
- Extra time in testing situations.
- Opportunities to take tests in a quiet setting.
- Access to breaks as needed.
- Access to the school counselor as needed.
- Student does not need to sign out of class to use the bathroom.
- Student is prompted to take breaks when showing signs of distress.
- Student has modified homework.
- Teacher will check in with student before independent work blocks.
- Specialized instruction can be provided in the classroom (push-in) or in a different setting (pull-out).
Push-in services might include:
- Provision of an instructional aide to support emotion identification and regulation.
- The school counselor/psychologist works with the entire class once or twice a month to discuss emotional health.
Pull-out services might include:
- Regular sessions with the school counselor/psychologist.
- Social skills groups.
Consultation services are also important, especially if a student participates in private therapy outside of school. Parents should consider giving permission for the private therapist to speak with the school counselor to discuss common treatment goals and ways in which the student’s coping skills can be supported and reinforced in school.
Erin Gibbons, Ph.D. is a pediatric neuropsychologist with expertise in neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological assessment of infants, children, and adolescents presenting with developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. She has a particular interest in assessing students with complex medical histories and/or neurological impairments, including those who are cognitively delayed, nonverbal, or physically disabled. Dr. Gibbons joined NESCA in 2011 after completing a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. She particularly enjoys working with young children, especially those who are transitioning from Early Intervention into preschool. Having been trained in administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Dr. Gibbons has experience diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in children aged 12 months and above.
Dr. Gibbons recently began serving clients in NESCA’s newest location in Plainville/Foxborough, MA. She is thrilled to bring her expertise in evaluating and supporting children with a wide range of abilities to this area of the state.
To book an evaluation with Dr. Gibbons or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists and transition specialists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.