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Social Phobia Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

Social phobia (also called social anxiety) is a type of anxiety problem. Extreme feelings of shyness and self-consciousness build into a powerful fear for people with social phobia. As a result, they feel uncomfortable participating in everyday social situations, like meeting new people, talking among groups, or speaking in public. People with social phobia can usually interact easily with family and a few close friends, but fear of embarrassment gets in the way of life

Social phobia is a fear reaction to something that isn't actually dangerous — although the body and mind react as if the danger is real. This means people with the disorder actually feel the physical sensations of fear, like a faster heartbeat and breathing. They're more sensitive to fears that they'll be embarrassed, look foolish, make a mistake, or be criticized or laughed at.

Some kids and teens with social phobia are so extremely shy and so fearful about talking to others, that they don't speak at all to certain people (such as teachers or students they don't know) or in certain places (like at someone else's house). This form of social phobia is sometimes called selective mutism.

Students with social phobia may:

  • feel self-conscious and uncomfortable in social situations
  • avoid school or participating in class
  • feel embarrassed, lonely, disappointed, or withdrawn
  • experience physical symptoms such as sweating, shaking, stomach pains, nausea, and a racing heart beat
  • take medication to help ease their anxiety
  • require intervention with a school counselor or therapist to help them handle social situations
  • be targeted by bullies

What Teachers Can Do

Social phobia is treatable, and therapists can create plans to help students cope.

The best way to help your student is to acknowledge the problem in supportive, non-judgmental ways such as:

  • using structured classroom activities, small groups, or assigned partners so shy students are not left out
  • assigning a classroom buddy to provide support
  • assisting with social interactions and rewarding efforts
  • being patient and positive as students learn new ways to cope
  • encouraging all students in the classroom to try relaxation techniques
  • encouraging shy students to try to speak for themselves, when they can, rather than speak for them
  • encouraging attendance, which may require shortened school days and modified class schedules

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014