How Learning Disabilities Can Lead to Anxiety in Kids

Photo of a young Caucasian boy holding up his finger painted hands in front of his face representing the ability to be creative in spite of his learning disabilities and how much better he feels since receiving counseling for kids with anxiety.

Photo of a little boy holding up his finger painted hands in front of his face representing his anxiety of having a learning disability and needing child therapyFor many children, learning disabilities are a frustrating part of life. They can not only bring a sense of shame and isolation but also lead to anxiety.

It’s no surprise that kids who experience daily frustrations, setbacks and potential embarrassment are more likely to worry excessively about their academic performance and social status.

Kids with learning disabilities begin elementary school like any other – happy and confident of what lies ahead. But as soon as various readiness curricula are introduced, the first signs of anxiety appear when they realize they either don’t understand what they’re learning or they’re struggling to keep up.

As they grow and mature, this gap in learning only widens. They start comparing themselves to others and begin to feel different, often labeling themselves “dumb” or “slow”.

What are Learning Disabilities?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a learning disability is any disorder involved in understanding or using language. These can ultimately result in difficulties thinking, listening, reading writing, math, and spelling.

Learning disabilities are quite common among young children and teens. According to the NCES, of the 7 million students who receive special education services in the country’s public school system, 33% have at least one learning disability.

Common learning disabilities among children are ADHD, dyscalculia (trouble with counting and numbers), dysgraphia (writing difficulties), dyslexia, processing deficits and others.

Learning Disabilities Can Exacerbate Anxiety in Kids

While a learning disability isn’t a mental health issue, they are related. When children and teens have a delay in learning, they can feel as if their efforts aren’t paying off. Feelings of failure and embarrassment among insensitive classmates are common.

These situations put children and teens with learning disabilities at a higher risk of developing anxiety. For example, kids with ADHD are up to three times more likely to have anxiety than kids who don’t have ADHD.

It’s important that parents and teachers of students with learning disabilities look for any signs of anxiety on a regular basis. These anxiety symptoms include the following:

Symptoms of Anxiety in Children

  • Sudden fear
  • Worrying
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Withdrawal
  • School phobia
  • Separation anxiety
  • Headaches or stomach aches
  • Anger issues/irritability
  • Feelings of sadness and/or hopelessness
  • Blaming parents or others
  • Changes in social behaviors (not spending time with friends or in activities)
  • Changes in appetite
  • Thoughts of harming themselves

How Parents Can Help Their Anxious Children

There are a number of ways parents can help their kids and teens with learning disabilities cope with anxiety. These include:

Make sure your child understands and utilizes their academic accommodations.

Have your child use their accommodations in order to avoid getting behind in classes or feeling so defeated that they stop trying altogether. Consistent and clear communication with school staff is critical as is assisting your child in advocating for themselves.

Model vulnerability in your family by introducing the concept of “strengths and weaknesses”.

Admit what you’re good at and those things you aren’t. Emphasize that everyone in the family (parents and siblings) have weaknesses and there is no shame in that. Be quick to compliment your child’s strength in an area.

For example, while your child may not read at their grade level, they may be a talented musician, artist, or soccer player. Highlighting strengths helps your child with learning disabilities not feel so alone.

Hug your child often (if they’ll let you!)

Physical touch conveys love and belonging and can help ground a child when they’re feeling anxious.

Discern where your child is on the “independence” spectrum and assist accordingly.

Just because a child reaches a certain grade level doesn’t mean they’re ready to become fully independent when it comes to completing school assignments and projects. No child wishes to fail, and it may take more coaching from you to help them plan and organize their schoolwork.

 Keep an eye on your child’s social interactions.

Often kids will experience social anxiety because they fear their learning disability will be discovered by friends who will no longer think they’re cool. When discussing your child’s learning disabilities or accommodations, make sure you speak to your child alone and not when they’re in a group of friends.

Reassure your child regularly.

Communicate that even if/when they fail a test or don’t understand all their math problems that you still love them. Let them know you believe they’ve tried their best and that they can try again tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day.

Avoid catastrophic thinking.

Do not make statements to the effect that they’ll never get into a decent college or land a good job if they don’t pull their grades up. Kids with learning disabilities are of at least average intelligence – they will learn at their own pace and style.

It’s important to make your child’s psychological and emotional wellbeing the priority. Pushing them beyond their limits only leads to anxiety and burnout.

Find a calming activity.

Calming activities such as yoga, deep breathing, prayer or visualization that your family can do together often help to reduce anxiety. Physical exercise is also very helpful. You may want to try rock climbing, hiking, biking or running together.

Begin Online Counseling for Kids and Teens with Anxiety in Illinois

If after trying these suggestions you feel that your child could use some additional help with feelings of anxiety, it’s wise to seek support from a therapist.

Online therapy at Briefly Counseling can help. Anxiety may feel overwhelming to your child, but it is highly treatable. Often having a hopeful conversation about feelings and specific ways to move forward is the best way to regain confidence and feel better emotionally.

As an experienced and caring therapist, I love providing online anxiety treatment. To start your child’s counseling journey, follow these simple steps:

  1. Click on the Schedule an Appointment button.
  2. Select a day and time in my online calendar
  3. Or learn about me, your caring online therapist 
  4. Watch your child gain confidence and feel better

Other Counseling Services at Briefly Counseling

Anxiety counseling for kids and teens isn’t the only service I offer in my Chicago and Illinois online counseling practice. Other mental health services provided by Briefly Counseling includes Christian counseling.

Helena Madsen, MA, LCPC is the founder of Briefly Counseling. I specialize in providing online short-term anxiety treatment for kids and teens ages 7 – 19.

I provide all services via online therapy in Illinois. Whether you’re in Naperville, Chicago, Champaign, Rockford, Libertyville, or Crystal Lake, I can help you. Schedule your appointment or consultation today. I look forward to working with your child to quickly and effectively help them in activating their strengths, resources, and resilience, in order to live with confidence and hope.

Visit my website at www.BrieflyCounseling.com for more information or call 224-236-2296 to connect with me personally.