We all worry or feel scared at times, but some children may worry so much that they avoid participating in activities, being with others, or going places. Children with disabilities and developmental challenges often experience higher rates of anxiety than their peers. Anxiety can take different forms, and some children can show symptoms of a number of types of anxiety. You can learn about the different forms of anxiety below.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
What might be some strengths?
- Some children with anxiety want their work to be perfect, and so their work may be high quality.
- Children with selective mutism may cooperate well with other children and obey the rules.
- Children with anxiety may connect with trusted adults or friends for support.
Where might you provide support?
- Worried and scared children usually try to avoid the thing that scares them. This could mean that they avoid or don’t join in some activities.
- They may look nervous or restless, or they may keep to themselves and avoid some activities or people. A child with anxiety who refuses to participate may be feeling overwhelmed rather than misbehaving or being stubborn.
- Some children who are really scared might cry and become very upset.
- Some students may refuse to attend school.
- They may seek lots of reassurance from staff and they may be upset if their work is not perfect. They might refuse to try something if they don’t feel they can do it well (particularly if others are watching), or throw their work away to start again.
- Some children may become very upset when separating from their family. Events that are out of routine, such as excursions, sports events, or camps may be very challenging.
- Anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as frequent stomachaches and headaches. This might affect their interest in class, or result in frequent sick bay visits.
- Children with anxiety may find it difficult to concentrate at times or appear restless.
- Anxiety can reduce a child’s ability to do well in a task, especially when they’re working in test-like conditions. This means that sometimes their results might not reflect their true capability.
Consider how you communicate
Adapt activities to be as inclusive as possible
Consider when and what type of feedback you give
Allow time to calm down
Activate social supports
Best practice tips
Provide a supportive and structured classroom environment
Consider student stressors and experiences
Monitor your own emotions
Excursions and camps
Other co-occurring conditions
AllPlay Learn’s Recognising and supporting student anxiety forms help teachers and students to reflect on:
- a student’s early signs that they are feeling anxious
- later signs that their anxiety is escalating
- triggers or contributors to the student’s anxiety
- strategies that may be effective at specific timepoints
Talking with families about their observations will help you develop a shared and richer understanding about the student’s anxiety. Involving students in recognising and responding to signs of anxiety can increase their autonomy and confidence. Some students may complete these forms independently, while others may find working with a trusted teacher, family member or health professional (e.g. their psychologist) helpful.
These forms can be used to support collaboration and communication across teaching staff, which can help create consistent supportive environments that foster a child’s sense of security and capability in managing their anxiety. You may also like to consider including these forms within an existing Individual Learning Plan to support the student throughout the year.
Visit our resources page for a range of resources that can help to create inclusive education environments for children with disabilities and developmental challenges. Some particularly relevant resources for children with anxiety include: