Health Wise: Back to School and Not Loving It?


We hope you're enjoying fall, and that those of you with children have had a smooth start to the school year. If not, you’re not alone! The school year can catch us by surprise, no matter how hard we try to prepare.

Transitions are hard, and this can be especially true for neurodivergent children, parents, and educators. Conditions like ADHD, Autism, and anxiety can make it harder to handle change. Change signals a need to adapt, and adapting takes a lot of energy. Change can also more easily trigger the neuro-atypical among us into survival mode, which can then lead to flight/fight responses vs. more engaged and proactive responding.

All this means is that the start of the school year can feel very chaotic, but there are many resources we want to bring to your attention that can help ease the transition into a new school year.

Firstly, let’s talk about school resources. If your child has a diagnosis (ADHD, learning disorders, ASD, trauma, anxiety, depression, etc), they may be eligible for a 504 or IEP plan, to enable them to receive school accommodations. Even without such a plan, many teachers are willing to provide some accommodations. Accommodations can include breaks, opportunities for movement (standing, fidgets, special seats), different seating options, extensions on tests or assignments, use of school counseling services or other spaces to reset or do work, and many more. Here are some ways to start the process of requesting accommodations, as well as some more information on 504/IEP.

Second, there are some things that can happen at home to help kids have a better year. You may notice your kids struggling in the morning before school, coming home in a negative mood, or struggling with homework. These can all be great opportunities for having a conversation about feelings, validating feelings, and rewarding effort. External rewards such as snacks, praise, gifts, or technology time may work well while children are struggling to find their own intrinsic motivation to succeed. Even small wins can and should be emphasized, so children build up their confidence and feel that they’re doing some things right, even when many things might be going wrong. Praise for small steps builds up self esteem to accomplish bigger steps! Build on what’s going well, while avoiding emphasizing each mistake, and you’ll see fewer mistakes and more successes over time.

Last but not least, community resources are available to help with this and many other transitions and challenges. If your child does not have a diagnosis but has symptoms of psychiatric conditions that may affect learning, attention, social functioning, mood, and other daily activities, comprehensive psychological testing may be helpful to clarify the diagnosis and guide future treatment as well as identify accommodations that could be helpful. Therapy can be helpful in addressing academic and social stress, transitions to middle or high school, family life, and any lasting effects of the pandemic. Often children may not want to discuss it with people they know, not wanting to be a burden or fearing being teased. So a neutral space provided by a therapy office may be exactly what they need.

If you are unsure where to start, check with your insurance for providers in your area. If you’re in Saline, Ann Arbor, or surrounding communities, the staff at Still Waters Counseling are ready to help! We offer comprehensive psychological testing as well as therapy, and can work with many conditions ranging from developmental disorders (ADHD, ASD) to academic difficulties and difficulties with mood, anxiety, and trauma.

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