My name is Mary Anne and I’ve been an educator for middle school kids for the last twenty years. I have devoted half of my life to educating and helping my students build their lives. You can say that I have seen everything – from child prodigies to regular grade schoolers and those with the “problems”. When I say “problems”, it’s usually behavioral or mental health issues.
Dealing with kids who have ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a walk in a park. Usually, their parents have enrolled them in treatment programs or therapy classes like Occupational Therapy, Talk Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the likes. Those with developmental delays pertaining to their social skills are submitted to Speech Therapy. Some who have difficulty in reading and writing are taking up Educational Therapy.
It makes me happy in a way that parents nowadays are very keen on wanting to support their children with behavioral issues. Although, there are some who are still in denial and we can’t force them to do that, we, the teachers, must adjust accordingly if the child is diagnosed with such disorders. Panic Disorder is another mental health problem that we must tackle with sensitivity.
Symptoms of Panic Disorder in Kids
The school counselor says that Panic Disorder or PD in kids basically have the same signs and symptoms with that of the adults. According to Dina Cagliostro, PhD, “Panic disorder is a diagnosis given to people who experience recurrent unexpected panic attacks—that is, the attack appears to occur from out of the blue. Panic attack symptoms include sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, feelings of choking, chest pain, and a fear of dying.” Children who experience panic attacks in school exhibit:
- Extreme fear
- Quickened heartbeats
- Shortness of breath
- Tingling sensation
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of dying
Effects of Panic Disorder in Kids
Once a child experiences a panic attack and anxiety in school, it has major effects on him or her. “They both activate the fight, flight, or freeze reaction in the body,” says Amanda Spray, Ph.D. The student will tend to avoid going to school due to embarrassment and severe anxiety. He or she doesn’t want to undergo the attack within the school premises again and that’s one of the reasons why he doesn’t want to go.
If the child manages to go to school, he or she will be socially isolated because the child withdraws from everyone. Some even develop a deeper disorder called “agoraphobia”. Kids with this phobia don’t want to come out of the house anymore to avoid panic episodes in school.
It will also disrupt the child’s ability to focus and concentrate in class. Teaching the child new lessons will cause him to shake or get nauseated. New things will make the child quiver in fear.
And that’s not all. Kids with PD tend to be bullied at school because others don’t understand what they are going through. “So many children are now experiencing levels of stress that come close to meeting the criteria for an anxiety disorder,” says Tamar E. Chansky, Ph.D.
As a teacher, what can I do?
I have consulted with a certified specialist from one of the online therapy providers which offers anonymous chat sessions with their patients who are suffering from various mental health issues, especially in anxiety and panic attacks. Anyway, the therapist told me that as a teacher, I can help a student with PD by changing the way I do things.
- As a teacher, I can ask the student during his “normal” moments where he or she wants to sit – where he or she feels to be “safe” within the classroom.
- As a teacher, I can speak with my student who has PD and tell him or her that it’s absolutely alright with me if he or she goes out of the classroom to find a “safe” place when triggered. This means that the child has a “hall pass” anytime of the day.
- As a teacher, I must let the child process his panic attack. It is not safe for me and the child if I attempt to restrain him. If the episode becomes very difficult, I can call for 911.
- As a teacher, I can ask permission from the parents of my student with PD if it is possible to speak with his or her therapist. The therapist can be very helpful in providing me tips on how to assist my student with PD issues, especially if the child has phobia on something.
- As a teacher, I must extend my patience on this student and accept that he or she has a mental health issue. If the child will be missing class due to a panic attack, I must give the student a bit of leeway so he or she can make up for the lost lessons or assignments.
Mary Anne B. C. from Santa Monica, LA, CA, US