School burnout in kids who learn and think differently

Kids with learning differences and ADHD are at greater risk of burnout than other kids. That’s because their challenges can create constant stress. Learn more and get tips to help.

When adults have ongoing stress at work and can’t get a break from it, they can eventually get burned out. It’s the same with kids at school — especially kids with learning challenges and ADHD. 

Burnout is a state of exhaustion that comes from nonstop stress. And for kids who learn and think differently, stress at school can be constant.

They have to work harder than other kids to improve skills and keep up. They may struggle socially, or face bullying on a regular basis. Some kids also try hard to mask their struggles and hide their differences. And that adds even more stress.

Many kids may be able to cope with the pressure and push through it for a while. They don’t appear to be wearing out. But then suddenly the signs of burnout appear.

Burnout takes a toll on kids. It can reduce their motivation to work on challenges. And it can make them lose interest in trying new and harder things. 

What causes school burnout 

Since burnout comes from too much stress, it’s important to know what’s causing your child’s stress. Here are some common factors:

Academic factors

  • Kids might have to work harder or longer than peers to complete their work and do their best.

  • They may get extra instruction or therapy on top of their already full schedules. 

  • Kids who struggle with attention have to work hard just to focus. They may sit with their work for hours and not make much progress with it.

Emotional factors

  • Kids can’t control or “turn off” their differences, which they may think is painfully unfair.

  • Setbacks, negative feedback, and just being different may affect self-esteem and make difficult tasks feel even harder. 

  • Kids know what it feels like to fail. So they may feel extra anxious about their performance. This also adds to their stress.

Social factors

  • Kids may feel pressure to not let down the supportive adults in their lives. 

  • Kids may have friends who can’t relate to what they’re experiencing. This can make them feel lonely or isolated.

  • Kids with differences are at greater risk of bullying, adding to anxiety and creating fear.

  • Social interaction may be difficult and cause a great deal of stress.

How to prevent school burnout in your child

For many kids, the stress continues after the school day ends. They may go to afterschool programs, where they face a lot of social pressure. Or they might have tutoring or therapy sessions that wear them out. And of course, there’s homework. 

To avoid burnout, it’s important to be aware of your child’s stress level. But kids don’t always talk about how their day went, or how they feel about it. So check in regularly with teachers, tutors, and therapists who work with your child. 

Find out how well your child is managing the workload and the stress. Ask how you can work together to reduce the pressure. Sometimes burnout is tied to anxiety or depression. Talk with your child’s health care provider if that’s a concern.

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