Monday, October 11, 2010

Q&A

Thanks to you all for sending your great questions. I have selected two letters to answer this month. In the following weeks I will address other questions that have been asked.  I hope you will check in regularly to see what other parents have to say and offer your own thoughts and questions.

The names of the schools, teachers, inquirers and children in the following discussions have been changed to protect everyone’s identity.

Problems Adjusting To A New School

Okay, here's a good one I am living every night... we have moved and now live in the same town but a different school district. Jessica, our oldest, is in 4th grade. So, she had been at her former school, Abraham Lincoln Elementary from K-3rd. On top of that Jessica is very quiet and shy. Well, she is not adjusting well at all to the move. She likes her teacher but it's not AL. She is cycling and cannot seem to get out of her funk. All she thinks about is I AM NOT AT AL. This is not AL. The PE teachers are not the same, the music teachers are not the same. We have PE at a different time. We have snack at a different time.

We have talked with her about focusing on the positive, but everything that triggers a memory of AL triggers tears! We have discussed journaling, but anytime she has a quiet moment she cries. HELP! I feel like she is spiraling and I cannot stop her! At school she is able to keep herself together for the most part.

Last night I really got concerned because she said, " I would rather di- than go to a new school." When she wakes up in the morning she starts crying and saying, I don't want to go to school. Her breathing gets faster and she starts hyperventilating.
Part of me is thinking she has school phobia or anxiety right now. When do you know the difference between adjusting and anxiety?

Response

I can hear the pain and panic you are experiencing as you describe your child’s reaction to her new school and inability to adjust quickly to her new surroundings. Change is difficult and anxiety producing for all of us. For a shy child, change may even be more challenging thus creating even higher levels of anxiety.

Your question is excellent. In determining if a child is having problems relating to adjusting versus anxiety, one must look at several factors. They are:
1. The length of time the child has had to adjust to his or her new environment

2. The level of intensity of the grief/adjustment response

3. The amount of time the child had to emotionally prepare for the move

4. The strength of the child’s ongoing support network

In reading the description of your child’s reactions at night and in the morning, her responses to the school change seems to be very intense. Jessica’s physical reactions to this transition, such as rapid breathing and hyperventilating are indicative of high levels of anxiety. Her expressions that she would rather die than attend a new school, while disconcerting, may be her way of saying that she is angry, feels out of control, and doesn’t know how to cope.

If this level of anxiety and unhappiness has persisted for over a couple of weeks, I recommend that you seek counseling for you and your child. A counselor can assist your child in learning coping skills to manage stress as well as provide a safe place to express her anger and grief. The counselor/therapist can also provide a thorough evaluation to assess the possibility of any other underlying concerns as well as support you in the process of supporting your child.

Reframing of Parent’s Thought Processes

I find myself hyper-sensitive to the triggers that make my son stand out as different due to his ADHD related emotionality and impulsive responses to people and situations outside of his control. It is almost like I want to create a bubble of total understanding and caution around him. I know that this is not only unrealistic, but it does not help him to learn to cope with communication, relationships, and stress. In what thinking processes can I engage myself to more comfortably allow the interactions to happen and support the fragile use of strategies he attempts, or respond more appropriately when a strategy is not engaged?

Response

There are many children who have difficulty navigating the world of social interactions and nuances. Unfortunately, their inappropriate responses can be highly embarrassing to the child’s caretakers and at times offensive to the adults who are trying to engage the child in conversation or social niceties.

A couple of things that may help with socialization is practice, practice, practice. Role play or use puppetry to rehearse meeting new people, appropriate behavior at restaurants, being around adults, etc. No matter how uncomfortable a child may feel in these situations practice helps in reducing their feelings of anxiety and awkwardness as well as assist them in making a good first impression. Howeve,r after that initial introduction, the impulsivity, inappropriate remarks, and behaviors may continue to ensue.

The second important strategy to employ is to teach the child empathy. For example if you are role playing meeting a new person and your child has a tendency to avoid eye contact and may even look away or not respond in that same fashion to your child’s appropriate greetings. (Only do this after the child has had several opportunities to practice appropriate greetings). Ask your child if your behaviors were appropriate, and most importantly how your lack of receptivity made them feel.

While I have given you pointers on teaching social skill, I still have not answered your question,
In what thinking processes can I engage myself to more comfortably allow the interactions to happen and support the fragile use of strategies he attempts, or respond more appropriately when a strategy is not engaged?

Well, you are a step ahead of many parents in that you realize intellectually that you cannot shelter your child from judgment or others’ reactions and that doing so is counterproductive. So the thought processes are already there.

One question I have for your heart, and this is a tough one, is have you truly accepted your child’s idiosyncrasies, disabilities, and or differences? Are you able to speak the truth about your child? Can you tell family, friends and colleagues that you have a child with ADHD, Asperger’s, learning disabilities, mood instability etc. If you can then you are on the road to acceptance. If you have difficulty speaking this truth to others it is important to ask yourself why? Whatever your response to all of the above questions, you probably have not fully accepted your child’s disability or grieved the loss of who you hoped your child would be. This is a very difficult and an ongoing process for any parent.


Diane Cantrell, LPC-S

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