Imagine you are a student diagnosed with autism, away at college for the first time studying for a degree in your dream field. You have all the knowledge you need to do well on your exams, but cannot answer questions adequately because your learning disability makes it difficult to read the test and write your responses. This makes you too overwhelmed and anxious to finish all the questions. You fail the exam, which only makes you more stressed. After repeating this experience on test after test, your grades are abysmal and your stress level is untenable, so you decide to drop out of school.
This scenario was a reality for one Transitions student. His inability to cope with stress enough to succeed academically had a serious consequence on his life and future. This is why it is crucial for young adults, especially those with learning disabilities, to learn strategies to manage stress before it swallows them up.
Every person feels stressed out sometimes, especially in college. But while stress is a universal and even motivating experience for college students, some are more affected than others. At Transitions, near Albany, New York, we offer courses such as Managing the Mind to teach young adults with learning disabilities how to cope with stress and anxiety. Learning these stress reduction strategies is essential to the academic success and overall wellbeing of students with learning disabilities.
Causes of Stress for Students with Learning Disabilities
School-related stress is the most common cause of academic failure among students with learning disabilities. These students may encounter several sources of stress throughout their education, including:
- Inadequate social skills – students with learning disabilities often have challenges with social skills, which can lead to poor communication and negative interactions with peers and professors.
- Academic self-concept – students with learning disabilities often recognize their own poor academic performance and differences in academic ability compared to other students.
- Academic environment – teachers and administrators may be unaware of or insensitive to the struggles of students with learning disabilities and fail to provide them with adequate accommodations.
- Inadequate executive functioning skills – deficits in time management, organization, self-regulation and other executive functioning skills can make it difficult for a student to stay on top of their obligations, which can lead to stress and overwhelm.
- Inadequate independent living skills – failure to master independent living skills such as money management, maintaining living quarters, navigation and transportation can lead to low self-esteem and stressful situations.
Effects of Stress on Students with Learning Disabilities
Students with learning disabilities who experience high stress can display certain disruptions:
- Emotional – increased irritability, frustration and/or nervousness
- Behavioral – distractibility, procrastination, avoidance, acting out, withdrawal and/or social isolation
- Physiological – changes in sleeping and/or eating habits, headaches and/or gastrointestinal upset
Stress Reduction Strategies for Students with Learning Disabilities
In addition to Managing the Mind, Transitions offers two other courses to equip students with stress reduction strategies. Seeing My Time teaches time management, organization and the use of tools such as calendars. Self-Discovery and Leadership helps students identify their strengths and weaknesses and teaches them to advocate for themselves and ask for help when necessary. Here are some of the strategies we teach to help students better manage their lives, which reduces their daily stress levels:
- Organization – using calendars, schedules and lists can be key to staying organized and on task.
- Academic advisors –academic advisors can suggest resources and assistance available to students with learning disabilities, such as tutoring and writing support.
- Communicate with professors – being proactive in communicating with professors is essential to academic success for students with learning disabilities. This means attending office hours, asking for clarification on assignments and being open about any course-specific difficulties.
- Relaxation strategies – there are many ways to actively practice relaxation, including meditation, breathing, listening to music, creating art, progressive muscle relaxation and doing yoga. Find one that works for you and use it daily.
- Know your strengths – knowing your strengths and talents can help promote academic success. For example, if you are better at retaining information through reading, ask the professor for a copy of the lecture notes to take home.
- Break it down – lengthy papers and big projects can feel overwhelming. Breaking assignments down into smaller, more manageable steps can make a big difference for students with learning disabilities.
- Healthy lifestyle – establishing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including adequate sleep, balanced diet and exercise, can make you less vulnerable to stress.
To learn more about stress reduction strategies for students with learning disabilities, or to find out about Transitions programs near Albany, New York, call (518)775-5384.
About the Author:
Priya Winston is a social worker and Self-Advocacy and Leadership instructor at Transitions. Since she was diagnosed with Turner syndrome and nonverbal learning differences as a teenager, Priya is uniquely equipped to give the Transitions students firsthand, personalized counseling on how to ask for and use accommodations to succeed at college and in the workplace. She received her Master of Social Work from the State University of New York at Albany in 2017 and is currently working toward her Ph.D. in Social Work.