Panic Attacks Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder in which a person experiences panic attacks. A panic attack is when someone has a sudden, intense physical response with a feeling of unexplained and paralyzing fear.

A panic attack can happen for no apparent reason and the person may have sudden and intense physical symptoms that may last 10 to 20 minutes. The symptoms can include:

  • pounding heart or chest pain (feeling like having a heart attack)
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness, hot flashes, or chills
  • nausea
  • sweating, shaking, or tingling in fingers or toes
  • feeling like a loss of control, or having a fear of dying or other unrealistic thoughts

Mild worrying in kids and teens is normal. But a panic attack may dramatically affect a student’s life by interrupting normal activities.

Many kids and teens have a single panic attack, which does not require intervention because it doesn’t happen again. But students with panic disorder may:

  • have difficulty concentrating in class or completing classwork
  • miss class time due to problems coping at school, or needing to talk with a school counselor or therapist
  • need to visit the school nurse to take medication for anxiety
  • feel self-conscious or isolated, and avoid places and situations that they think they might cause a panic attack

What Teachers Can Do

Students with anxiety disorders may have difficulty completing classwork and homework, which can cause panic attacks and possibly lead to panic disorder.

Teachers can help ease anxiety levels by:

  • keeping communications open with the student, parents or guardians, and school counselors and trying to identify triggers that may cause panic attacks
  • providing a safe place and a cue system in which the student signals the teacher that a panic attack might be coming and the student needs to take a time-out
  • adjusting the amount of classwork and homework
  • encouraging the entire class to use relaxation techniques throughout the day
  • encouraging students to exercise regularly, which can help reduce feelings of anxiety in patients with panic disorder

Students with panic attacks or panic disorder need encouragement and, sometimes, just someone to listen. A flexible and supportive environment will help improve your student’s class participation and encourage the student to develop coping skills.

Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: October 2014