5 Stress Factors for High-Schoolers Who Learn and Think Differently

By The Understood Team
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At a Glance

  • The pressures of high school can be extra stressful for kids with learning and thinking differences.

  • A history of struggles and setbacks can increase their worries and anxiety.

  • There are many ways you can help relieve some of your child’s stress and build his confidence.

Kids with learning and thinking differences can feel more anxious than their peers during every school transition. But moving through high school can bring a whole new level of stress. Increased workloads and the prospect of life after high school can loom large for teens.

Here are common reasons for high school stress—and how to help.

1. Fear of Failure

Kids who’ve struggled in school for many years often come to high school with a history of setbacks. Past failures can make the demands of high school feel even greater.

What you can do: Remind your child about his strengths and about the strides he’s already made. Talk about resilience and his ability to use past failures to actually move forward. You can also:

2. Tougher Academics and More Responsibilities

The academic demands increase with every year of high school. Even if kids have made great strides in middle school, they know the work will get more challenging. At the same time, they’re increasingly expected to self-advocate for what they need.

What you can do: Remind your child of the supports he has—both at school and at home. Encourage him to reach out to teachers for help. If he has an IEP, he can reach out to his IEP case manager too, and even ask about having self-advocacy goals included in his IEP. You may want to look into tutoring options. You can also:

3. Social Pressures

Social situations can also be a source of stress for teens. They can feel pressure to fit in, to be popular and to have a lot of friends—whether these are real friends or not. And as teens become more independent, they may find themselves in new and possibly risky situations where they need to make tough choices.

What you can do: Read about dating hurdles your child may face, along with common issues at parties. Role-playing can help. You can also:

4. Uncertainty About the Future

In high school, kids have to start thinking about what kind of career they want to pursue. They also have to choose a path: college, work, vocational training. If your child has an IEP, he’ll go through a formal process to plan that transition. But that alone may not lessen the stress.

What you can do: Assure your child that feeling unsure or worried about the future is normal. Remind him that there are many ways for him to find success and happiness in life. You can also:

5. Concerns About College

Just thinking about college can be stressful for kids with learning and thinking differences. But the process of getting there can create specific stressors. These include college entrance exams, filling out applications and choosing a school.

What you can do: Talk about types of colleges and how they differ. If he’s eligible, let him know that you’ll work with his case manager to get him college testing accommodations, and that you’ll help him find colleges that are a good fit. You can also:

It’s natural for kids with learning and thinking differences to feel stress about high school. But ongoing stress can build and sometimes may lead to mental health issues. Know the signs of anxiety and depression. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s doctor if you have concerns.

Keep in mind that stress isn’t always bad. Learn about the difference between good stress and bad stress for kids with learning and thinking differences.

Key Takeaways

  • You can help your child build resilience and see failure as a way to develop strengths.

  • It can help to tell your child that feeling unsure or worried about the future is normal.

  • Ongoing stress can lead to anxiety and depression, so it’s good to know the warning signs.

About the Author

About the Author

The Understood Team 

is made up of passionate writers, editors, and community moderators. Many of them learn and think differently, or have kids who do.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Jenn Osen-Foss, MAT 

is an instructional coach, supporting teachers in using differentiated instruction, interventions, and co-planning.

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