Managing Students Anxiety at the end of the Year

The end of an academic year can be difficult for many children (especially for children in care). While it brings a
degree of excitement and opportunity for growth, it can remind children of previous loss and separation. It can
evoke strong feelings of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, which can be difficult for a child and the adults around
them to understand and manage.
We need to help children, adults, and ourselves(!) to feel regulated. PACE (Dr Daniel Hughes) can be a useful
approach to use. PACE stands for playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy.

Playfulness: Playfulness isn’t about playing or telling jokes, but about bringing lightness to a situation and
showing the child you enjoy their company. For a child experiencing anxiety, fear, or loss around end of year transi-
tions, playfulness can bring them out of flight/flight.
This could involve sharing a snack together, playing a game of snap, telling each other about your favourite memory
from the year, guessing who will eat the most ice-cream over the summer!

Acceptance: Acceptance is about noticing what the child brings – their hopes, fears, views, and feelings, with-
out judgement, action, or advice giving. We might not agree with a child’s actions and responses but can pay atten-
tion to the feelings underlying them.
It is also important to notice how we are feeling – where we might be holding stress in our bodies, or difficult emo-
tions we are experiencing – this could be linked to our own response to transitions and endings, or
our role in caring for a child. Notice what is going on for yourself without judgement.

Curiosity: Curiosity involves taking an active interest in the child’s experience (or your own) and wondering
what’s going on. Even if we think we know what happening, we need to explore this openly with the child, so they
feel thought about and can safely begin to understand their experiences.
We might curiously wonder out loud ‘I wonder what’s making you feel so bouncy right now?’ ‘I might be
wrong, but I wonder if…’ ‘I can see this is scary for you. Can I share my ideas about why this feels so

Empathy: This is where we let the child know that we notice and understand their experience. It’s about ac-
knowledging, labelling, and sitting with the emotion (as uncomfortable as this can be). For example, ‘I can see
you’re feeling worried about saying goodbye’ ‘You’re doing your best to stay strong, but it’s hard’.
Transition periods are also stressful for adults, so offer yourself empathy and acceptance of your
own feelings. Try not to ignore or judge how you’re feeling – your feelings are valid and ok. Consid-
er what you need to care for yourself. ‘This job can be tough at times and I’m doing my best’.

How Parents/Carers Can Help Autistic Students Prepare & Handle Exams

Explain importance of exams/coursework – Knowing ‘why’ exams/coursework are a necessity to complete can be a great source of motivation to want to do well in them.

Why is the exam taking place? – to test how much knowledge of the subject you remember off by heart.

Why is it important you do the best you can? – To try and get the highest grade possible to pass the exam and impress potential employees/further education of your result.

Some employees require ‘pass’ grades to show you are qualified enough to learn further or work in that field. Passing exams in certain subjects is a great way to show off your knowledge in subjects you enjoy and is also a chance to show off!


Advice for Revision

Revision/studying plays a big part in the success of an exam/coursework and there are two big factors that can impact the quality of revision: comfort & enjoyment. Talk to the student and listen to what they think works best for them, then give it a go! If it works then great, if not then you can talk about making some adjustments.

What environment best enables the student to feel comfortable yet focussed?

Is there a time of day the student tends to be more focussed?

Who do they like to study with?

Is there a preferred revision method?

There is not necessarily one particular right way per student – these can change completely from subject to subject or getting bored of a particular way, or closeness to the exam/deadline. Changing things up to best suit the student is encouraged!

Leading up to Exams

Structure and routine in the lead up to the exams are recommended for students with Autism; this is to try and alleviate stress or anxiety all while remaining positive.

When we talk about structure, we don’t just mean a revision timetable (although this is definitely recommended too!), we mean a complete day to day agenda to assure the student is getting a healthy balance of revision, sleep, exercise, meals, and downtime.

With regards to a revision timetable, it is a good idea to balance all subjects throughout a week – the length or time and breaks should be structured in a way to maximise focus and minimise burnout e.g. some students like one big session of 90+ mins,while  others like 30 minutes work, 10 mins break, 2 or 3 times a day; it is at the discretion of the student, and a trial & error basis until you find what works best. The closer it gets to exams, it is suggested that you alter the timetable to focus on the more immediate subjects e.g. study that subject the day before the exam.

Exams can come with a lot of stress & anxiety, so to help try and minimise this, encouraged ideas include:

There are arrangements that may be offered and are available to students with special educational/additional support needs (including autism). These must be requested in advance to the exam board so the arrangements can be made before any possible deadlines.

Special arrangements offered include:

Dealing with Anxiety

Anxiety is something that many people suffer from at some point in their life, with around 8 million people in the UK suffering from every year. It can make you feel trapped and unsure of where to turn and can sometimes lead to further health issues. There are a variety of different ways to help alleviate feeling of anxiousness. Below is a list of 5 things that can help people cope to with anxiety:

By incorporating these into your daily routine, you can help to alleviate feelings of anxiety, and thereby promote your overall health and mental wellbeing.

  1. Exercise regularly.

Incorporating regular exercise into the daily routine can help you to reduce feelings of anxiousness. By putting your body through physical stress, you can ironically alleviate mental stress.

This includes:

Exercise actually lowers the amount of stress hormones (e.g. cortisol) produced in your body. It can also promote the release of endorphins, helping to uplift your mood. Additionally, exercise can improve your quality of sleep, which can lead to reduced anxiety levels.

Make time every day or every week to go to the gym or do an exercise class – or take simple steps like walking to the shops or taking the stairs instead of the lift.

  1. Optimise your environment.

Creating a peaceful home environment can also help to alleviate feelings of anxiety. Using essential oils and drinking chamomile tea can help you to feel relaxed when coming home from the every-day stresses of life. Even having a room in the home when you can put your feet up and read or watch television can become your safe place.

Additionally, if you buy a weighted blanket, it can also help to reduce anxiety, especially when it comes to sleeping. Warm baths help too..

Therefore, you can help to de-stress by optimising your home environment, introducing products that help you to feel more relaxed at the end of the day.

  1. Have a support system in place.

Anxiety can often leave you feeling isolated from the rest of the world. However, it can really help to talk things through with someone, and get support from loved ones when you need it most.

It’s important to have a strong support system in place to help you get through the tougher times. Reaching out to family and friends, whilst maybe nerve-racking at first, can be a great way to help you cope when feeling anxious.

Having a code system – something you can stick on your bedroom door/ front door or a code word in a text to let someone know your feeling this way.

  1. Reduce caffeine intake.

Caffeine is found in numerous different beverages, such as tea, coffee and energy drinks. Whilst caffeine can help you to focus throughout the day, too much of it can cause increased anxiety.

Therefore, it might be best to reduce your caffeine intake and opt for alternatives such as decaffeinated tea or coffee, or mint tea. 

  1. Practice Mindfulness and deep breathing.

Practicing both mindfulness and deep breathing can help you to alleviate feelings of anxiety. Through mindfulness, you bring your attention to the present moment in time and meditate in this moment. This can help to alleviate negative and stress-inducing thoughts and promote a sense of calm and relaxation.

Things like meditation along with deep breathing exercises can help to enhance this sense of calm, further alleviating feelings of anxiety. Deep breathing exercises help to activate what is known as the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing the heart rate down and promoting relaxation.

For busy people on the go, you can use apps such as Calm, Headspace, Stop Breathe and Think to help you relax when you are feeling anxious.

Vocational Qualifications

Vocational qualifications are practical qualifications that relate to a specific job or career sector.

Unlike more academic courses like A-levels, they combine a mix of theory and practical learning and you’ll probably do some work experience too.

There’s a huge range of different courses that you can do, and many types of qualifications you can get, from entry level to advanced. The length of the course depends on what level you study at.

Vocational qualifications are a good option if you have a clear idea of what type of career or trade you’d like to work in. They can help you to get the specific skills you need to get your first job or progress further in your career.

However, if you’re not sure yet what you want to do, you could find many (but not all) of the courses quite limiting.

You can take vocational qualifications from the age of 14 (although there are a lot more options from 16) alongside, instead of, or after, academic ones like GCSEs, A-levels or degrees.

There are literally hundreds of different vocational subjects that you can do. Here’s just a sample:

• Accounting
• Animal care
• Beauty therapy
• Business
• Customer service
• Construction
• Child development
• Electrical installation
• Engineering
• Environmental services
• Food technology
• Gas installation
• Hairdressing
• Health and social care
• Health and safety
• Heating and ventilation
• Hospitality
• IT
• Journalism
• Logistics
• Management
• Manufacturing
• Media and communications
• Plumbing
• Retail
• Warehousing

Entry requirements to these courses vary depending on the level you want to study at, and the qualification you’ll get at the end depends on the subject, where you are working (if you study on the job) and the organisation awarding it. Here are some examples:

EK Outreach Services – Covid 19, what you need to know.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is having an impact on everybody’s lives. Regardless of their age, this will be a challenging time for many children and young people. How a child or young person responds to their individual situation will vary. Some may react immediately, some not at all, while others may show signs of difficulty later on. It is important to recognise that in most cases, these are normal responses to an abnormal situation.

How a child or young person responds to their individual situation may vary in different ways according to their individual characteristics and circumstances. For example, their age, physical or mental health condition, how they deal with stress, previous experiences or pre-existing mental or physical health condition.

During this time, it’s important that you support and take care of the mental health of children or young people in your care, as well as your own mental health. There are lots of things you can do, and additional support is available if you need it.

Looking after your own mental health.

As well as thinking about the children or young people in your care, it is important to take care of your own mental health and wellbeing. This will help you support yourself and those you care about. Children and young people react, in part, to what they see from the adults around them. When parents and carers deal with a situation calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for children and young people.

Promoting mental wellbeing and helping children and young people cope during the pandemic.

Children and young people want to feel assured that their parents and carers can keep them safe. It will not always be possible to provide answers to all the questions that children and young people may ask, or to address all their concerns, so focus on listening and acknowledging their feelings to help them feel supported.

There are some actions you can consider to support a child’s or young person’s mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic, including:

Children and young people may respond to stress in different ways. Signs may be emotional (for example, they may be upset, distressed, anxious, angry or agitated), behavioural (for example, they may become more clingy, or more withdrawn, or have difficulty concentrating, or they may wet the bed), or physical (for example, they may experience stomach or headaches). Look out for any changes in their behaviour and be aware that these changes may not occur in all contexts (for example they might just happen at school or at home).

Create a calm safe space where they can communicate how they are feeling without judgement. Some young people may find it easier to talk while you are doing something together, such as playing or exercising in the park, going for a walk, painting or other activities. You can’t always know the answer and it is often better to be honest and say ‘I don’t know’ rather than put more pressure on yourself or set unrealistic expectations. Listen to them and acknowledge their concerns.

Remember to let them know you are there to help and give them extra love and attention if they need it. Children and young people who struggle to communicate how they feel may rely on you to interpret their feelings.

For further advice you may contact Young Minds Parents Helpline. They also offer Parents Email and Parents Webchat services.

MindEd for families is a free online educational resource about children and young people’s mental health designed for all adults, which can support parents and carers through these exceptional circumstances. Young Minds also has a useful resource about ‘Starting a conversation with your child’.

One of the best ways to achieve this is by talking openly about what is happening and providing honest answers to any questions children have, using words and explanations that they can understand. Explain what is being done to keep them and their loved ones safe, including any actions they can take to help, such as washing their hands regularly.

There are resources available to help you do this, including the Children’s Commissioner’s Children’s Guide to Coronavirus, or the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) have produced a storybook developed by and for children around the world affected by COVID-19.

Make sure you use reliable sources of information such as GOV.UK or the NHS website – incorrect or misleading information can create stress for the child or young person you care for.

Children and young people often take their emotional cues from the important and trusted adults in their lives. How you respond to the situation is very important. Try to manage your own emotions and remain calm, speak kindly to them, and answer any questions they have honestly.

Where it isn’t possible for them to meet in person, they can connect online or via phone or video calls.

Changes to our lives caused by the pandemic might impact on routines. Routine gives children and young people an increased feeling of safety in the context of uncertainty, so if your routine has changed, think about how to develop some regularity where possible. Some ideas might include:

– Make a plan for the day or week that includes time for learning, free time (including play, creativity or hobbies) and relaxing. A weekly timetable that can be visualised can be helpful.

– If children have to stay home from school, ask teachers what you can do to support continued learning at home.

– Children and young people ideally need to be active for 60 minutes a day, which can be more difficult when spending longer periods of time indoors. Plan time outside if you can do so safely or visit Change4Life for ideas for indoor games and activities. Physical activity is good for our physical and mental health.

– Good sleep is important for mental and physical health, so try to keep to existing bedtime and morning routines. The NHS provides healthy sleep tips for children.

– Try giving children and young people healthier alternatives to treats such as sweets or chocolate. See Change4Life for ideas.

Like adults, children and young people may become more distressed if they see repeated coverage about the COVID-19 pandemic in the media. Removing their access to the news is also rarely helpful as they are likely to find information from other sources, such as online or through friends. Try to avoid turning the television off or closing web pages when children or young people come into the room. This could make them assume that you are hiding important things from them or could cause them to worry. Instead, consider limiting the amount of exposure children and young people have to media coverage.

Young people will also hear things from friends and get information from social media. Talk to them about what is happening and ask them what they have heard. Try to answer their questions honestly but reassure where you can.

How children and young people of different ages may react.

All children and young people are different, but there are some common ways in which different age groups may react to a situation like the COVID-19 pandemic. The common reactions to distress will fade over time for most children and young people, though could return if they see or hear reminders of what happened. Understanding these may help you to support your family.

Infants may become more easily distressed. They may cry more than usual or want to be held and cuddled more.

Preschool and nursery children may return to behaviours they have outgrown, such as toileting accidents, bed-wetting, or being frightened about being separated from their parents or carers. They may also have tantrums or difficulty sleeping.

Older children may feel sad, angry, or afraid. Peers may share false information but parents or carers can correct the misinformation. Older children may focus on details of the situation and want to talk about it all the time, or not want to talk about it at all. They may have trouble concentrating.

Some pre-teens and teenagers respond to worrying situations by acting out. This could include reckless driving, and alcohol or drug use. Others may become afraid to leave the home and may cut back on how much time they connect with their friends. They can feel overwhelmed by their intense emotions and feel unable to talk about them. Their emotions may lead to increased arguing and even fighting with siblings, parents, carers or other adults. They may have concerns about how the school closures and exam cancellations will affect them.

How to Help your Child Transition Back into School Life

After being off school for so long, it is only natural that many young people will be worried about returning to school.

Here are some tips on how you can support your child to transition back to school life:

  1. Talk to your child about how they are feeling about going back to school and try not to make assumptions. Ask them if they are worried or feel scared about anything, but also if they are excited about or looking forward to something. No matter how your child feels, let them know that it is completely normal to feel a mixture of emotions and that everyone will be in the same boat.
  2. Provide your child with as much information about their new routine and school day as you can. This will help them to prepare for any changes that have been made to the timings of their day, the layout of their classroom, their breaktimes. It can sometimes be helpful for children to visualise the setting or take a visit. We are more than happy to accommodate visits to our centre to help with this or for them to meet their team via zoom, so they become familiar faces.
  3. Reassure your child. During the lockdown we have been told to stay at home, remain socially distant from others and wash our hands regularly. This means children may find it difficult to go back to school because it will be a huge change from what they have been asked to do during the pandemic. Talk with your child about ways they can stay safe at school, such as washing their hands before and after eating, and reassure them that the school are putting measures in place to keep them safe.
  4. Re-establish a routine to help ease into school life. During lockdown it is understandable that your family’s routine may have changed. Children are likely to have been waking up later or going to bed later. To help them get ready for school, try to gradually get them back into their usual morning and bedtime routines as they get closer to their return date.
  5. Don’t put pressure on yourself. The transition back into school is likely to take some time. Lots of children will experience ups and downs. Try your best to support, reassure and comfort them, without putting pressure on yourself to make sure their homework is done or they settle into a new routine straightaway. If you have any concerns please call us in the office to discuss, we can be very flexible with our students during this time.
  6. Think ahead. As well as reflecting on what has happened during the past few weeks, it is important to help children develop hope and a sense of excitement for the future. At a time like this, it can be hard to feel positive, but identifying the things that they can look forward to, will help them to realise that the current situation won’t last forever and their feelings will change.

Seek support if you need it. Transitioning back to school after being in lockdown is no easy task. You may find that your child struggles to get back into school or experiences difficulties while they’re at school. If this is the case, reach out to us as soon as you can so that you can make us aware of the challenges and we can work together to support your child.