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Helping Your Student Manage Year-End School Stress

Helping Your Student Manage Year-End School Stress

By Mir Kamin

This morning I went looking for the post I wrote when planning to transition my autistic homeschooler back to public school, and once I found it, I read it feeling something akin to amazement. It feels like I wrote it a decade ago. I mean, I remember the thought process, the logistics of it all, the excitement, the trepidation—all of it—so clearly, and yet it feels like something that happened in the distant past. Reality check: That was only about a year and a half ago.

My son’s reentry into the public school system was not without hiccups, but that first, half-time semester served its purpose. When August rolled around and it was time for him to be a regular, full-time sophomore, he was ready. Again, there were some hiccups—we practically forced him into marching band, kicking and screaming, and it took a good month or two before he realized he loved it; there was an adjustment to having to sit in classrooms all day long after the relative freedom and faster pace of homeschooling; and although he’s come a long way, there is still a routine “airing of grievances” via text messages when he is displeased (which my husband and I jokingly refer to as his daily mini-therapy). School is hard for him in ways it probably wouldn’t be for a neurotypical kid. We know this. We’ve all adjusted. Now that it’s May, it all feels routine… sort of.

School’s out in just a few weeks. Right now the normal schedule of classes has been upended for AP exams, End of Course Tests, and various other “end of the year” things. No biggie, right? Except for him, it’s like death by a thousand paper cuts, because:

1) change in routine (stressful!)
2) frequent shunting to a doubled-up classroom for busywork (stressful and infuriating!) while the regular room is used for exams
3) exams (super stressful, particularly for a kid who is still struggling to develop good study habits).

With just a few weeks left in the semester, it feels a little like my son has hit the wall.

Now, let’s be clear: I think that’s a normal feeling for most kids at the end of the year. Heck, I’m not even in school, and I am completely over this school year, thankyouverymuch. I’m ready to bid the early alarm good-bye, I’m tired of concerts and competitions and practices and events and “do you have your homework” and “shouldn’t you be studying” and “how did you lose your textbook?” and just all of it. I sympathize with the feeling of being done. That’s par for the course.

The (potential) problem here for my son is that there is a certain level of overwhelm from which he has a lot of difficulty trying to recover, and it’s hard to know when we’re approaching it (though once we hit it, don’t worry, that’s plenty clear… usually because he collapses in a heap of anxiety and sadness while my heart shatters). His IEP is structured to give him as much support as possible, but during these last few weeks where everything is different, it’s hard to even figure out when/how to help him with the things that throw him off. Learning to deal with the fact that sometimes things change from the norm and you just have to roll with it for a while is a crucial skill set he’s going to need in life. And as I keep telling him, I know he can manage. Still, I see his anxiety level creeping up, and I worry.

Yesterday was his first AP exam, and as luck would have it, it was for the class he and his big sister share. I knew that could be wonderful or catastrophic, and though I won’t pretend to take an iota of credit for it, somehow the kids all on their own figured out that they could study together and quiz each other and, I don’t know, use each other as support instead of bickering about who took whose pencil. It was magical! (Let’s pause a moment here so I can point out that my daughter really stepped up in terms of both organizing herself and assisting her brother, which was amazing to see on about half a dozen different levels.) They headed off in good spirits yesterday, and when I picked them up after the exam, they both said they thought it went okay.

But last night, I tried to get him to study for another upcoming exam, and that’s when things started falling apart. He’d already studied (for five minutes), and he’d been working all day and just wanted to talk with his friends (who probably also should’ve been studying). I tried to give him a “the year is almost over, the finish line is in sight but you have to find that last burst of energy to get there” pep talk, but it fell on deaf ears. Eventually he declared that he was just really tired and went to bed early.

This morning he woke up convinced that he failed yesterday’s exam and everyone hates him and the sky is falling. His first class got routed to another (doubled-up, crowded) room and I fielded a litany of text messages about the unfairness of the world and the stupidity of everyone in it. I know this is him blowing off steam, and I would much rather he text me than mouth off in class, but still, I worry. There’s weeks left and many more exams to get through, and I can see he’s having a hard time keeping it together.

My plan is to sit down with him tonight and map out a schedule for the remainder of the semester. He’ll agree to a certain amount of studying every night, I think, but dislikes the generic “well, go study more” exhortation. If I ask him to do an hour a night, he’ll set a timer and do it. I can’t do anything about the chaos at school right now, but I can help him make his time at home predictable, and that should help. I’m doing a lot of baking and making sure we have plenty of ice cream in the house; sure, good snacks never solved the problem of stress, but they certainly don’t hurt. We’ll mark the days off on the family calendar, and mark off each exam with an extra flourish.

In the final balance, sure, he still needs some extra support and encouragement, but this first full year back in public school has been a huge success for my son. I keep reminding myself of that, because it’s easy to forget when he’s struggling. He’s learned a ton, gotten great grades, made new friends, found new activities, and managed to find his way in what can be a really stressful environment for him. He’s managed to find the positives most of the time, which is huge. In a few weeks, he’ll turn in his textbooks and have the whole summer to relax, unwind, and get ready to do it all again next year. And I know that even though there will be hard parts, he’ll rock it, because he’s amazing.

Published May 5, 2015. Last updated May 16, 2016.
About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • Autumn

    May 5, 2015 at 11:23 am

    One thing that helped us get through the end of the year stuff was my younger brother and I struck a deal when we were old enough to stay home alone.  I wouldn’t feel bad if he didn’t come to my band concerts/award recognitions etc if he would feel bad if I didn’t go to his.  My parents were skeptical it would work, but agreed with the stipulations that high school/college graduations were required attendance. 

    It was great, in part because while the rest of the family was at some event (they probably didn’t want to be at anyways. . .) the other could have quiet study time, chill and relax time, etc.  Cause seriously, band concerts are BORING! and I was a band geek! 

    • Autumn

      May 5, 2015 at 11:24 am

      Edit cause typing challenged:  He wouldn’t feel bad if I didn’t go to his

  • […] angst with my youngest. He’s doing a lot better than he thinks, and you can read about it over at Alpha Mom if you’re so […]

  • el-e-e

    May 6, 2015 at 8:59 am

    Will you sit down with me and map out the next few weeks, too, please? I could use some help like that. In fact I think your plan – and snacks – sound really useful for everyone at this stupid-crazy time of year.

    But seriously, congrats to Monkey on doing so well this year!

  • Alison

    May 6, 2015 at 9:28 am

    My daughter sends stressy texts as well, and also spends a good hour verbally unloading to me when she gets home each day. She is so stressed about end of year projects at the moment, but in a strange way I’m relieved – this is the first year she’s really taken her studies seriously. Roll on the end of June, when she finishes for the year! 2 more assignments and 4 performances before then….sigh!

  • RuthWells

    May 6, 2015 at 10:07 am

    You’re doing exactly the right stuff: structured, predictable schedule, discrete goals each night. This is exactly how Q and I got through the end of his semester. You’re rocking it.

  • RLJulia

    May 6, 2015 at 10:25 am

    Want to come to a parallel universe? Come to my house. Except that all offers to help result at being glared at. Second AP exam is today and third is next Wednesday. Can’t wait!

  • RooBearMom

    May 6, 2015 at 11:29 am

    Be grateful for small things, like he reaches out to you and talks (or complains) about it. As the mother of a college freshman, I get monosyllabic responses to my texts and rare FB updates. Wishing the best of luck to the kids on their last few weeks AND lots of wine on your new patio furniture to you!

  • skubitwo

    May 7, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    both have come such a long way!
    gurgle (as in drowning) college pause
    this is hard to do, but with a verified IEP, do plan a visit to the colleges and visit their Student Services Office. The college and university I teach at calls it Disability Support, which is so not inviting, and totally too narrow for what they actually do. Visit yours. Find out what they do and what they can’t do. For non-neuro-typical kids, the office itself may not be aware of all that they can legally do. Do some pre-visit research on college and university accommodations, and go prepared. As an adult (wtf) your child will be their primary contact, but you can go along and be in the room! I just did this with my non-traditional student adult child and there were some suggestions our office had that I was not aware of, and some that I had found through NAMI that they were not aware of, but totally accepting of. Tailor your own search for your kids. Your student will need to fill out forms every semester for accommodations – new instructors. Legally, Instructors can’t provide accommodations without that verification. Do Ask your student if their instructors are meeting those accommodations. Instructors of those 500+ student sections may simply be unable to do too much on a personal level, but you and your student talk to your disability services office First, before hitting the instructor. I personally can do lots more in my math classes, because my classes are capped at 35, tiny for many universities.
    But, but, so much progress!! so wonderful! so proud!
    so much chocolate wishes for you!
    a long time lurker.