The child with obsessive-compulsive disorder or generalized anxiety can have a difficult time in school. Obsessive thoughts and an intense need to perform rituals can cause a lot of difficulty with learning. Often parents are extremely frustrated just getting their son or daughter to school in the first place, when the child changes her mind ten times about the clothes she wants to wear, or washes his hands eight times before meeting his carpool. Then, at school, the teacher must deal with difficult behaviors while still trying to manage the classroom. These children need a lot of love, patience, and understanding. Children diagnosed with OCD or generalized anxiety are eligible for special education, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA). Here are ten classroom accommodations which you can request to help your child with OCD or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) succeed in school:
1. The teacher should be educated specifically about your child’s disorder. Parents should meet with the teacher prior to the beginning of the school year to talk about their child’s symptoms, and what strategies are being used at home to deal with them. This teacher should be sympathetic to the condition and willing to work with parents. Do not assume that the teacher is familiar with the disorder, even if the teacher says he is. “Hearing about it” and actually having current information are two different things. Provide reading materials if necessary.
2. There should be some leniency with respect to time limits. The push for students to “hurry up” in order to finish on time can trigger anxiety. The teacher should recognize that anxiety may silently cause distractions that interfere with or slow down work. Also, some children have intense compulsions to fill in circles with pencil, erase repeatedly to get letters “perfect,” etc. The child could be allowed to take incomplete work home, or be allowed to turn in incomplete work if a good effort was made to get as much done as possible.
3. Perfectionism should not be praised. In other words, the teacher should not say, “Wow, Jenny, those letters are written exactly on the line.” The teacher should instead praise effort and note that mistakes are “okay.”
4. Quirks should be quietly tolerated. As long as the child isn’t interfering with her peers’ safety or ability to concentrate, rituals that cannot be controlled should be allowed, without drawing undue attention to them. Whenever possible, they should be ignored.
5. Ward off teasing and bullying. Unkind behavior from classmates makes anxiety worse. A special show and tell could be held, depending upon the child’s willingness to participate, where the symptoms are discussed with the class and the child is shown to have regular hobbies and interests like everyone else. If such a presentation would cause too much anxiety for the child, the teacher could select several very responsible, popular students in the class, pull them quietly aside, educate them about their peer’s condition, and ask them to ward off teasing and be supportive. Most children enjoy being special helpers, and the other children will tend to follow their lead.
6. Look for triggers. If the child has repeated episodes of anxiety or rituals, the times and circumstances should be noted. What is setting them off? Could certain stimuli or events be eliminated or altered so that the child won’t become so anxious?
7. Have an “escape route.” If the child becomes overwhelmed, a pre-arrangement could be made for the child to quietly leave the classroom and go to a safe location, or even sit in a chair in the hallway until his or her nerves have calmed down.
8. One of the classroom mottos should be, “Everybody makes mistakes.” School should be a safe place where kids don’t feel threatened or intimidated by the need to be academically perfect. Competitions involving scores on tests or homework should be avoided.
9. Keep tabs on meds. The school administration should understand what medications are being dispensed to the child, and the dosage. Any signs of bizarre behavior or symptoms which could be related to medication should be brought to the attention of parents immediately. Dosage changes should be reported to the school and teacher as soon as possible, so they can make observations and be in close contact with parents if anything goes wrong.
10. Have frequent follow-ups. Rather than assume that “no news is good news,” check in with the teacher, once a week if possible. Ask how things are going and whether there are any new concerns. Look carefully at your child’s homework and pay attention to his or her general attitude about school. Serious problems should warrant a trip to the psychiatrist or pediatrician who is working with your child to explore new behavioral or medical strategies.
Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here. Some links on this blog may have been generated by outside sources are not necessarily endorsed by Kristyn Crow.