There are many types of anxiety – including generalised anxiety, social anxiety and specific phobias. Children and young people with visual impairments are at increased risk of experiencing anxiety at some point in their lives for the following reasons:
- Seeing and visually exploring faces can be hard (or impossible) and therefore facial expressions cannot be used to judge the mood or responses or others. Furthermore, an inability to recognise faces can cause feelings of awkwardness that have the potential to lead to social withdrawal and a lack of trust towards peers.
- Children and young people may become attached to a familiar person who makes them feel ‘safe’ in everyday situations. This could be a parent or a member of support staff and this attachment can be hard to break.
- Uncertainty with regard to navigating their environment, such as the fear of potential hazards. Children and young people may feel safer indoors and withdraw from outdoor activities such as socialising with friends in the playground.
- Their world, with reduced anticipation, is more unpredictable than that of a person with typical vision. Everyday things such as animals, water, certain textures or events can turn into phobias with inadequate visual information to support their understanding of the world.
Not all young people with a visual impairment will experience anxiety or phobias, but many children in general will feel worried from time to time.
Remember, anxiety becomes a problem when it affects everyday life.
Here are some indicators of anxiety/phobias:
- Excessive need for reassurance from an adult
- Consistent shyness or irritability that could be due to a preoccupation with worries and fears
- Repetitiveroutines that appear to serve no purpose
- Nervous mannerisms such as a bodily twitch or excessive nail biting
- Frequent complaints of stomach pains, digestive issues or headaches
- Consistent avoidance of certain situations, objects or tasks
- High level of perfectionism and obsessive desire to avoid making mistakes.
Improving outcomes: How to support a young person who may be experiencing anxiety or phobias
Introduce any of the following coping strategies that may be suitable:
- Relaxation techniques, such as breathing techniques or listening to audio recordings.
- Use a worry box.
- Tactile cues, such as therapy putty or keeping a calming, familiar object (such as a smooth stone) in their pocket.
- Sensory cues, such as pleasant and/or calming smells (such as lavender).
- Distraction, such as counting backwards.
Help your child/learner to develop resilience through the following approaches:
- Ensure the young person experiences supportive and positive relationships as much as possible. Be an optimistic role model and consistently demonstrate keeping your cool under pressure.
- Be explicit with your praise for their achievements – feeling cared for and supported in vital for developing resilience.
- Let them know that it is okay to ask for help and model this for them to see.
- Let them know that it is okay to make mistakes – again, this can be modelled. None of us are superhuman and making errors is a natural part of life: how we respond and move forward is what’s important.
- Ensure they engage in regular physical and mental challenges. Daily exercise and playing memory games are healthy approaches to developing stress management.
- Teach them how to reframe situations they view as negative.
Parent anxiety can have a direct influence on a child’s mental health. In some cases, support for the whole family is an important step in improving the mental health of young people with visual impairments. Speak with your Advisory Teacher for more information on supporting families of young people with visual impairments.
Collaborative working between parents, school and professionals is needed in order to put strategies in place that may support a young person in managing their anxieties and phobias. Further support may be required and a CAHMs referral should be put in place if necessary.
It is important for the child or young person’s long term mental health and wellbeing that they do not reach crisis point before receiving help.
For more information and guidance on visual impairment and anxieties/phobias, or to discuss concerns regarding a child/young person, please contact your Advisory Teacher for support.