Anxiety in Kids Who Learn and Think Differently

By The Understood Team

At a Glance

  • Anxiety is common in kids who learn and think differently.

  • Anxiety is different from stress.

  • There are lots of ways to help kids cope with anxiety.

When your child learns and thinks differently and has anxiety, it can be difficult for both of you. But it might help to know that you’re not alone. Kids who learn and think differently are more likely to have anxiety than other kids.

Read about the link between anxiety and these differences. And find out how you can help your child cope.

Why Anxiety Is Common in Kids Who Learn and Think Differently

Kids who learn and think differently are more likely to have anxiety for a few reasons. In some cases, learning and thinking differently can create anxiety. In other cases, there may be a genetic link between anxiety disorders and certain differences.

For example, kids with ADHD are up to three times more likely to have anxiety than kids who don’t have ADHD.

Learn more about the connection between:

Different Types of Anxiety

Anxiety is a broad term that can refer to different things. People might use it to describe feelings of worry or tension that come and go. Or they might be talking about a serious and ongoing anxiety disorder, which is a medical condition.

Sometimes people use the terms anxiety and stress to mean the same thing. The terms actually mean different things. But chronic stress can lead to anxiety. Learn more about the connection between stress and anxiety.

Kids can have anxiety that isn’t a disorder. For example, it’s common for kids who learn and think differently to have what’s called performance anxiety.

This is when kids get nervous about doing something they don’t think they can handle. Or maybe in the past they’ve been laughed at or bullied when they struggled with something. That might be speaking or reading in public or doing math problems on the board.

Performance anxiety doesn’t usually go beyond the specific things that are hard. Read about the impact that math anxiety and reading anxiety can have on kids who struggle in those areas.

It’s not easy to cope with anxious feelings, even when they’re limited to specific things. But when kids have anxiety that impacts many aspects of life, it’s a more serious issue.

There are a number of anxiety disorders, including:

Generalized anxiety disorder: Kids tend to worry about a lot of things. They often think “what if,” “I’m not going to be able to handle this,” or “This is going to be hard or scary.”

Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Obsessions are unwanted and unpleasant beliefs, feelings, or thoughts. For example, “Everything I touch will make me sick.” Compulsion is the urge to do something to make the anxiety about the scary thought go away. This might be a repetitive ritual like hand-washing.

Social anxiety disorder: This is when kids can’t tolerate being in group situations or, in some cases, even interacting with another person. Thinking about what might happen makes them so anxious that they withdraw from or refuse to take part in social activities. This protects them from worrying about “what if.”

How to Help Your Child With Anxiety

When you see signs of anxiety that don’t go away, it’s important to talk to your child’s health-care provider. There are many ways to treat anxiety. Different types of anxiety require different types of support.

To help kids at school, supports called accommodations can make a big difference. Some kids are eligible for anxiety accommodations through a 504 plan. Watch as Melody Musgrove, EdD, talks about 504 plans for anxiety.

And there are things you can do at home to help your child cope.

When kids struggle in many areas, it can be hard to tell what’s behind the challenges. That’s why it’s important to look into all of the potential issues.

To find out about learning differences, you can request a free evaluation at school. Many professionals who evaluate for ADHD can check for anxiety, too. Having the full picture can help you find the right help for your child’s challenges.

Key Takeaways

  • Lots of kids who learn and think differently have performance anxiety.

  • To help kids at school, accommodations can make a big difference.

  • If anxiety gets in the way of your child’s happiness and doesn’t go away, reach out to your child’s health-care provider.