While some kids love being back to school after summer break, others find it challenging. For kids with LD and ADHD, getting back into the swing of things often means reliving some of their worst moments—rude classmates, poor grades, social exclusion, cafeteria taunts, struggling to keep up, etc.
They start the new year worrying: “I bet I’ll be lonely.” “My teacher won’t understand my questions.” “Others will make fun of me.” “I won’t do well.” Even if the first couple weeks go well, these students anticipate that things will soon go downhill.
Worry and anxiety are reasonable reactions considering the challenges they face: meeting new people; adapting to different classes, teachers, and schedules; dealing with unanticipated changes; and learning a new environment for those changing schools.
Strategies for All Ages
While the discomfort and concern are real, there are strategies that can help. Use these tips to help younger children, while older students can apply them on their own.
- Prioritize self-care. Start now to develop healthy habits for eating well, sleeping, exercising, and reconnecting with friends from school.
- Don’t worry about the past or the future; one is over and the other hasn’t happened. Meditation practices are proven tools to help tolerate stress better. Any kind of meditation works—mindfulness, repeating a phrase, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, guided meditations, even walking. You don’t have to hold still to meditate! There are apps to help you with any of these. Headspace and Calm are two popular apps, whether you’re a beginner or a practiced meditator. What’s critical is finding time to do it daily.
- Take a step back and look at the issues that came up before. Generally, it’s not one thing after another; it’s the same thing over and over. Talk with someone you trust if you need to, but identify the problems that tend to recur. This lets you come up with proactive strategies to either avoid them or to handle them better.
- Understand your academic needs. Have you identified potential sources of help? Have you reached out before, and if not, what stopped you? If you have reached out, what helped? You can set up regular meetings with a teacher/professor, tutor or learning center ahead of time.
- Avoid falling behind. Organization and time management are problems for many, but you don’t want to dig yourself a hole that will be hard to get out of. Line up an executive function tutor/coach to help you plan and, importantly, to check in with you during the week to be sure you’re on track; this can often help you avoid procrastination.
- Be clear about what’s challenging you. If you have a tutor, special education help, or spend time in in a learning center, speak up about what you need or feel. Too often students give up on help, not realizing it takes time for someone else to understand their learning style.
- Figure out what social situations are most difficult. Do you feel you can’t be your authentic self because you’re afraid of making mistakes? Do you misinterpret others, or become confused by their behavior? Do you have a hard time with interrupting or staying focused? Are you anxious about meeting new people, knowing what to say and how to initiate relationships? It can be helpful to work with a counselor who “gets” your problems. That person can help you proactively strategize ways to navigate social situations and ways to handle them more comfortably.
- Look for people who are accepting—they are out there, in your school and online. Join a club to meet others with similar interests. In college, find a professor whose work interests you and meet with them, perhaps finding yourself a mentor. It’s easier to meet people by doing an activity rather than just having to talk.
- Share some of your challenges with a potential friend or roommate. You don’t intend to misinterpret, offend, or be disruptive. Ask for clear feedback so you can better manage the relationship. This is a time when compromise becomes important—maybe altering your behavior and your friend/roommate being flexible as well. Get help working out conflict if you need it.
- Sometimes sensory issues are the challenge – the noise level in a class, cafeteria, or dorm; the lighting, etc. If you have strategies to deal with the problem (e.g., noise canceling headphones) use them. If you disclose your diagnosis, accommodations should be made to make you comfortable. If you’re aware of the problem from previous experience, work out accommodations before school starts.
- Seek out support if teasing and rejection are an issue—a school professional, a friend, or another student who is sympathetic. Look for ways to stand up for yourself, and most of all, remember that there will be jerks, and they don’t define you. See them for what they are and see your own talents and strengths—you may be loyal, original, insightful, responsible, bright, and have a deep sense of integrity. Be sure to take in anything or anyone that affirms you, even keep a journal. We all tend to focus on the negative and blow off the positive.
Being proactive, planning strategies, and finding activities and affirmation will go a long way toward making this new year a better experience. Focus on what’s positive and going well rather than dwelling on problems. Address problems early when they’re small and they’re less likely to become big. Make sure to address sensory issues yourself and with the school if needed. Pay attention to taking care of yourself—eating, sleeping, exercise, and having a balance of work and what you enjoy. Remember, always, that having differences is OK. Being different just means you bring different strengths to the table.
Marcia Eckerd is an evaluator, consultant, and therapist who specializes in working with children with NLD and autism-spectrum disorders. This article originally appeared on PsychCentral.com as Aspergers, Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD), and Families. All rights reserved. Reprinted here with permission.