Social Anxiety in Children with Disabilities

By Cowden, Peter A. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Social Anxiety in Children with Disabilities


Cowden, Peter A., Journal of Instructional Psychology


Humans experience social anxiety to different degrees and in different areas. In schol settings, this can be a barrier to learning. The school is a social place and to experience anxiety arond peers can be challenging, especially if the student also has a learning disability. Social anxiety problems are often associated with learning disabilities. Unfortunately, students with special needs are frequently lacking necessary social skills needed to adpat to their environment. These qualities in a person may lead to a student developing social anxiety. As a result, students may feel apprehensive in their educational setting which can lead to major problems in their learning. By being aware of social anxiety that can exist is students with learning disabilities, teachers will have a better chance of helping their students overcome their fears and succeed in their educational endeavors.

Background

Social anxiety continues to affect numerous special needs students throughout our educational system. Many educators are unaware of what social anxiety is and how it affects their students. Social anxiety is a term that is used to describe an experience of anxiety regarding a social situation, interaction with others, or being scrutinized by other people. People who feel social anxiety are often overcome with timidity, bashfulness, diffidence, apprehension, intimidation, lack of confidence and/or lack of assertiveness. Research has shown that some students have become so overwhelmed with social anxiety disorder that they are afraid to speak and interact within an educational setting (Social Anxiety Disorder: Children and Education, 2008). When students possess social anxiety, it greatly affects their ability to succeed inside and outside of the classroom environment.

Social anxiety problems may often associated with learning disabilities. Unfortunately, students with special needs are frequently lacking necessary social skills needed to adapt to their environment. "Individuals who have learning disabilities may be less observant in their social environment, may misinterpret the social behavior of others at times, and may not learn as easily from experiences or social 'cues' as their friends" (Social Adjustment Problems Associated with Learning Disabilities, 2009). These qualities in a person will likely lead to a student developing social anxiety. As a result, students may feel apprehensive in their educational setting which can lead to major problems in their learning. By being aware of social anxiety that can exist in students with learning disabilities, teachers will have a better chance of helping their students overcome their fears and succeed in their educational endeavors.

Social anxiety can be a debilitating and shameful feeling. However, this disorder is not something that people have to live with. There are some basic fundamental strategies that can help overcome social anxiety in almost any setting. A good starting point would be initiating conversation or arming oneself with pre-planned topics for conversation when attending social events (Sena, Lowe and Lee, 2007). Along with pre-planned topics, preparing questions to ask of others will help alleviate social anxiety because asking questions of others is a way to get the focus off oneself. In addition to these, it is better to arrive early to functions in order to meet a few people without having to break into large, already-formed groups (Lein, 2008). Entering a situation or place with a trusted person, someone you feel comfortable with, will help to guide and reassure a student that there is nothing to fear.

Prepare an Environment for Comfort

By incorporating simple steps into your teaching mannerisms such as acting friendly, smiling, speaking in a soft tone, and giving compliments will help the socially anxious student feel more at ease in the classroom. Establishing a "peaceful place" open to all students in the classroom, whether it's a corner with a bean bag in it, or a quiet section tapped out on the rug, provides a safe place for students to go and sit quietly to gather themselves if they feel threatened or stressed in a social situation (Young, 1991).

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