My challenge to myself this week is to clarify in my mind the way to verbalise how I work with youngsters who are struggling within our school system and displaying unwanted behaviours due to extreme levels of stress. I want to be able to be more succinct in explaining to other adults how we can support these young people, many of whom are only 7 or 8 when I am first contacted to work with them.
So, the steps to reducing unwanted behaviours caused by anxiety? First and foremost put yourself in their shoes. It can be tricky to think like an Autistic/ADHD/neurodiverse person, but what you need to remember is that all exterior behaviours are a result of feelings, and feelings when in school for many people on the autistic spectrum, with ADHD or who are neurally diverse are stress based and they are unable to verbalise them.
While reading this short story, imagine you have no other options! So to put yourself in the shoes of a highly anxious and stressed person I want you to imagine you are going on a last minute budget holiday.
You have bought your ticket, packed your bag and are waiting on a taxi to take you to the airport. The time comes for your taxi to arrive but it isn’t there. Five minutes pass, ten minutes, you begin to worry as although you have allowed extra time to reach the airport you know the late taxi is eating into this time. You phone the taxi company, no answer. You would phone your friend to see if they can take you but you know they away so you are on your own. 20 minutes after the expected time the taxi arrives. The taxi driver is grumpy, he couldn’t find your house. He says he will charge you for the extra time he has spent trying to find your home. You start to argue with him but you know it is futile. He has got you in a corner as you need to get this flight even though you think it is unfair. You agree to pay the extra but by the time you get to the airport, having also got stuck in the increasingly bad traffic, you tell him what you think of him and he is rude back.
Next you move into the overcrowded airport hall, noise, people, lights. You search for your check in and baggage handling point and join the long queue. Fifteen minutes later as you get to the front, an airport assistant asks if you have already checked in. You reply you haven’t and are told to move to the back of a different queue as this is for bag drop off only. You mutter under your breath and are loudly told by the airport staff that this is a zero tolerance zone for language and behaviour. You feel your cheeks burn with embarrassment.
Finally having checked in you traverse security but instead of having time for a relaxing drink in a small café and a browse in the airport shops, you realise your name is being called on the intercom system as your flight has already boarded. You rush up to the flickering lights board and scan it to locate the gate for your budget flight. You start to run to make your boarding gate in time and accidently knock into an old person. You run to the gate where you see the door and the back of the airport boarding staff. You call out, ‘Excuse me!’ but they are already going through the sound-proofed door.
Now think about the stress you might feel at each stage of the journey to the airport. How do you react? How do you imagine your stress levels rise? Now imagine feeling that level of stress every time you went to school? Imagine that level of stress every time you were asked to sit in a busy and noisy classroom, to participate in a group task, tackle some maths you are frightened of failing or to navigate the playground. As you read on to part two of this article, remember when we are talking about these children and young people, we are talking about people who have extremely high levels of stress all the time they are not at home. It is exhausting for them and not surprisingly they hit out and shout and scream. Remember the levels of stress they experience and read onto Part Two.