The Compassionate Classroom

Taking a Seat For Wellness

"Life is not merely to be alive, but to be well" - Marcus Valerius Martial

Welcome to The Compassionate Classroom and practicing well -being in the classroom, school, and everyday life. I never thought much of well-being until I came to understand it. My hope is that the following curated resources will assist your own well-being and offer an opportunity for collegiality and wellness.

Your Quick Guide to Accommodations for Students With Anxiety

Key points:
· Do not provide accommodations to avoid anxiety-provoking situations
· Provide support to help student overcome anxiety
· Look for possible signs of anxiety, what you can do

Your quick guide to accommodations for students with anxiety

"Hakuna Matata."

"It means no worries," Timon explains to a young Simba in the popular Disney movie The Lion King. Shortly thereafter, they break out into a cheerful song about it with their warthog friend Pumbaa.

Getting students with anxiety to "hakuna matata" may not be as easy as breaking out into song and dance. Furthermore, this type of avoidance is not the goal, according to experts.

"Provide enough support so [students] can approach whatever is anxiety-provoking, rather than avoid the difficulty," said Mary Alvord, a psychologist and director of Alvord, Baker & Associates, LLC in Rockville, Md.

Here are some ways you and your staff can provide support to students with anxiety.

· Build in time for visits to the school counselor. Although many schools tell their students that they can leave class and seek out somebody to talk to if they need, students may not do so, Alvord said. "Many kids won't say they're upset," she said. "They'll try to hold it in." Schedule check-ins between the school counselor, nurse, or another trusted adult with the student once or twice a week for 10 minutes. Ask questions like, "How are things going? Is there anything standing in your way? What plans can we develop?"

· Give the student a "flash pass." If the student is getting too anxious and needs to step out of the room to go to the water fountain or somewhere away to break the anxiety, give him a flash pass that he can just place on his desk, Alvord said. That way, the student does not have to raise his hand and ask to leave to class. If the student is in middle or high school, ensure that all his teachers know about and understand the flash pass accommodation.

· Seat the student in the front of the room. Even though the tendency may be to put the more rambunctious students in the front of the classroom so they are easier to keep tabs on, highly anxious students sometimes do better if they're closer to the teacher, Alvord said. "It's nice to have highly anxious kids closer so you can monitor it," she said. It might be harder to notice something is amiss if the student is anxious, quiet, and sitting in the back of the classroom.

· Encourage deep, diaphragmatic breaths. Teachers who notice that a student may be anxious can allow her to step out into the hallway and take a deep, diaphragmatic breath. Even better is if the teacher or a paraprofessional is able to step out into the hallway with the student and take the breath with her, Alvord said.

· Offer testing accommodations. Seat the student in a quieter space that's a bit separated from the rest of the classroom for testing, Alvord said. However, do not take the student out and place him in a separate room. The edge of the room, where an adult can check in on the student a bit more, works well, she suggested. If the student needs extra time to finish the test, let him have it.

· Ask forced-choice questions. A student with anxiety might freeze and go blank when the teacher calls on her in class. Instead of asking that student an open-ended question, ask her a forced-choice question, where the answer is either A or B, until her comfort level increases, Alvord said.

· Establish a "lunch bunch." Students with anxiety, especially those in middle school or high school, may choose to go to media center or somewhere outside of the lunch room to eat. "That's problematic," Alvord said. "Unless there's a really good reason, it just further reinforces isolation. It's better to assign tables or a lunch bunch or to connect them with one to two other kids rather than letting them escape the situation."

· Assign a buddy project before a group project. Students with anxiety are sometimes afraid of group work. "Group projects are such an important life skill," Alvord said. The answer to this is not to allow the student to do a separate, individual project. Rather, start by pairing the student with just one other student to work with.

· Reinforce bravery. If the student does something that is hard for her, make a big deal out of it. Send a note home to the student's parents that says what she's done, Alvord said. For example, if Jenny is extremely anxious about speaking to people, the note can say, "Jenny was great today! She spoke to two people!"

See related stories:
· Look out for these possible signs of anxiety
· CHART: Different ways anxiety disorders manifest and what you can do

See also:
· Know when student anxiety may warrant 504 plan, accommodations
· Be alert to behavioral indicators of anxiety in students
· SmartStart: Emotional Disturbance (Eligibility)

Florence Simmons covers Section 504, paraprofessionals, and transportation for LRP Publications.

October 26, 2018

Copyright 2018© LRP Publications

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