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Managing End-of-Year Stress at School

Hurray, the school year is ending! Bummer, it is the beginning of state testing! This is the time of year when some children feel like giving up on school because they are mentally checked out. However, this is the time of year when children have to amp it up on both their brainpower and their focus on studies. Classes are finishing the last units and starting on intensive review sessions for testing, whether for end-of-grade, end-of-course, or other major assessments. Children will be sent home with packets of practice questions or given similar work online. Yet, most kids have been feeling done with schoolwork for some time. Some students may have already felt tired of school after returning from winter or spring break. Hence, many may ignore their test preparation work and choose to preoccupy themselves with other activities (such as sleeping or playing videogames).

It does not help that catching up with school after one to two years of remote learning has been so difficult. Parents and educators are tired. Students are tired. With the struggle of change, your child with autism is likely really feeling the blow. Not only has your child had to adjust to the return to in-person school, but they have also had to adapt to following the behavioral expectations of a classroom which may counter the behaviors that are allowed at home. They must hold in their frustrations during the day to make it through and not get in trouble or upset a favorite teacher. Therefore, they may be letting go of their self-control more than usual at home. You may be seeing an increase in meltdowns, tantrums, withdraws, stimming, and so on.

Because of this, it is important to pay attention to your own level of stress. Children have an uncanny ability to sense the emotional state of adults. They may not understand your feelings, but they can mirror your mood through their behaviors. They may also increase their dependency on you as you struggle with your needs. Of course, this will only add to your stress. It is very important to pay heed to your needs and amp up the self-care. If this entails sneaking an extra dessert or getting too hooked on Wordle, so be it. As an educator, I see the self-care happening with my peers in school. I have worked at a few different schools and it has been a consistent pattern at all. During late spring, studies and pressure amp up, and everyone feels the pinch. Therefore, rewards are laid on to help the educators with pushing through. Doughnuts and other treats pop up for teachers. Principals give praise to teachers at this time by honoring a teacher of the year and supporting teacher appreciation week. While these rewards help counter some of the pressure, teachers are still feeling it. Your child may have a substitute teacher for a couple of days at the end of the year. It is stressful for everyone, and it is important to manage those feelings.

This is why you take an especially important position in your child’s life at this time. Self-care and mindfulness are essential. When you finish your process of getting centered, you can tend to your child or children. If you need to re-situate daily, or multiple times per day, do so, as long as it is not interfering with health or needs (the needs of you and your family). If you or your child needs professional help to get centered, seek it. There is nothing wrong with seeking medical assistance with mental health challenges related to stress. This can be a very trying time of the year. The main goal is to get through and to celebrate those feelings of accomplishment, relief, and pride.

If a goal ever seems too great, for you or for your child, the goal can be lowered or broken down into smaller tasks. This can help your child with feeling more able to accomplish the large goal. Otherwise, they can have more anxiety-related behaviors and shut down or have a meltdown. When it gets to be too much, remember, you have people to help you. Schools and teachers can be incredible resources. They mean the absolute best in providing a stellar education for your child. Regardless, always feel able to advocate. Speak up. If your child is not able to complete an assignment in an allotted amount of time, ask the teacher for more time. It may not be accommodated, and that is okay. If your child has an IEP, and the extended time has already been used for a project or quiz, you can still ask. You can also offer to help your child complete an assignment at home. If it is group work or any other type of work that relies on teacher instruction, that may not work. However, it always helps to ask. Ask, ask, ask. In addition, be kind and supportive of the teachers. Everyone is working hard to help your child. Sometimes, your child just cannot do the work to completion, and that is okay! The most important thing is that they tried and feel good about it.

When I was growing up, my mother always instilled in me a feeling of pride in my own learning. I definitely struggled and felt a lot of stress at school. There was little awareness of autism in the 1980’s-1990’s, but I had an intuitive mom who seemed to “get” that the pressure of grades and completion is not conducive to a child with anxiety issues. So instead, she focused on the process of learning. This mindset worked wonders in helping me focus more on the knowledge and discovery gained through school (and at home) and less on the grades or about competing with peers. I was told that a C was okay, and of course, A’s are great. However, learning is more important than anything. This gave me a love for school and in pursuing knowledge. With this mindset, my C’s and D’s of middle and high school turned into A’s in college and beyond, because that passion of learning pushed through all of the related learning difficulties I had, such as emotional, behavioral, and focus problems.

Because of my mother, I have loved learning to the point that I wanted to make it my career. I wanted to help children of all types of learning abilities find that spark of joy in discovering something new. I have been an educator for over twenty years. In addition, I have my own learning differences. School was a challenge. I discovered I had autism in school, in fact, when reading about it in a graduate class for special education. I was diagnosed through TEACCH and the discovery led to answers. Later I was diagnosed with ADHD. While labels were unknown when I was a child, I was fortunate to have a mother who was an attentive educator with an advanced degree, because she was trained to notice learning challenges and keyed in on my struggles. She would reinforce education in the home by having repetition of new ideas, supplemental materials, and hands-on activities. This was a lucky break for me. It is quite difficult to be a teacher, even with a graduate degree. So, feel very proud of yourself for anything you do to help your child with learning and managing their differences. In addition, it is a great start that you are aware that your child has autism, because you can find out their specific needs. There are endless tools available to help you, such as books and agencies. The Autism Society of NC is a great place to start. Many programs are free, and the website will lead you to finding peer-supported materials and other agencies.

Remember, this time of school is only one part of the entire year. It may be the hardest, but sometimes we gain the most strength and awareness from the greatest challenges. In retrospect, it is only a school year, and not a major disaster such as having a house burn down. If anything, think of that whenever you start to feel overwhelmed. This too shall pass! Plus, summer is just around the bend…


About the Author

Mary Janca is a teacher and coach for students of all learning differences. She has been teaching for twenty years, has a Master’s Degree in Teaching, Behavioral/Emotional Disorders, and is certified in multiple subjects from first grade to high school. She coaches youth and adults with life skills and academics. She is currently working on a client base to serve students in Greensboro and Raleigh. She also works with clients nationally and overseas. You can find her on LinkedIn.

Mary has Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD. She has faced many struggles in life due to these differences but is proud of her desire to get back up, learn, and keep going. She loves to help others succeed with whatever challenge they are facing. 

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