The School Year is Wearing Thin Already
The school year is wearing thin already. We parent coaches usually see an up-tick in referrals from professionals and calls for help from parents at this time of year. Parents are distressed because homework struggles and/or behavior calls from school are increasing. The newness has worn off, and learning issues are coming to light. Children can’t do their math, they bother their friends, they seem testy and disrespectful, and they are emotionally wrecked by the end of the day. Gifted kids are disrupting the classroom because they are being under-challenged. kids with undiscovered reading disabilities are losing their hope. Those with ADHD are remembering that it’s more of the same every day … I can’t focus enough to do what the others do, and I don’t want to be different!
What can parents do to help in these situations? First, understand that if your child is losing interest in school this early in the year, it’s important to
- Listen closely to what he’s saying
- Avoid blaming him for being unmotivated.
If the issues persist week after week, asking the school for accommodations and/or testing is well within your rights and responsibility. If it’s math, reading, or writing that’s causing the issue, the evaluation team can try some strategies to help your child. Do not wait for a few more months to go by. If there’s a true learning issue, the sooner you discover it, the better. If the strategies (i.e., fewer problems or items assigned, moving to the front of the room, or more time allotted for tests) don’t seem to help, the team can decide that a formal learning evaluation should take place.This may involve:
1. the school psychologist (IQ/learning strengths and weaknesses testing)
2. the reading, writing or math specialist (grade level achievement testing)
3. the regular education classroom teacher
4. your input via surveys and conversation
5. music, gym, and art teachersIf your child shows that there’s a significant grade-level lag in his or her abilities, special education can be provided for the Specific Learning Disability in the form of an Individualized Educational Plan, or IEP. The child will have programming, often in the regular classroom with the special education teacher co-teaching as a resource for special needs students. Or the child may be in the special education resource room for math, reading, or writing. Each school handles this according to their staffing configuration. If no learning disability is discovered, the child may be eligible for regular education accommodations that can support him or her. Many schools have supplemental reading programs, in particular, that can be of great help to your child.
If the problems at school are more focused on behavior and emotions, a similar path can be followed by the school staff. After a request from parents or a teacher, a team meets to discuss the issues, and then accommodations (i.e., moving to the front of the room, more breaks between activities, and extra guidance at transition times) are made. If there’s not significant improvement, a special education evaluation can take place. The process involves classroom observation, questionnaires for parents, teachers and familiar adults in the community, and sometimes surveys completed by the child. The parents, the school psychologist, the regular classroom teacher, the social worker or counselor, and the Emotional-Behavioral Disability special ed teacher could all be involved. If the child is determined to be in need of special education in this area, the EBD teacher would write an IEP, and the parents would be invited to hear the details in a meeting. If the parents approve, the school can institute a regular program of support for the child, with contact with the EBD teacher, social worker, or counselor.
IEP’s follow children from year to year in school, and are reviewed annually. Parents are considered part of the IEP team, and are invited to all annual meetings to learn the results of the tests, and to hear of, and contribute to, changes in the plan. If a need for an early IEP meeting becomes apparent, parents are included in it, too. Every three years, the special education team re-evaluates the child’s learning disability to be certain that services are still required. Some children mature out of their need for extra support, so they can be “mainstreamed” fully in the regular education classroom.
Some other children have conditions that interfere with their learning, such as hearing or vision impairment, medical issues, or ADHD, that do not qualify them for special education, but require classroom accommodations. In this case, a 504 plan can be instituted. This is a regular education program by which the school team and parents make plans to assure success in school for children whose needs are not in the special education realm, but are still significant enough to require help. Read more about 504 plans here.
You may also hear your child talking about the classroom, lunchroom, bus, or gym being “too loud.” She may say that she cannot concentrate in class because of certain smells. You might hear that your child is struggling because the lights in the room seem to be flickering. He may say that he cannot stand wearing jeans to school, but can only wear wind pants or sweats. These all point to sensory processing issues (sensory avoidant), which can understandably interfere with learning. Some children have sensory seeking tendencies, wherein they are always touching a wall, other children, the floor, or furniture. They often bump into others and have difficulty keeping their bodies in their own space. For some children, sensory avoidant and sensory seeking are both part of their landscape. Click here for information on Sensory Processing Disorder. These issues can be helped by Occupational Therapy, which is usually delivered outside the school setting, but is no less important than school-based services. OT’s do provide services in school, but usually related to handwriting and other needs that are directly related to school performance. For more concentrated OT, ask your pediatrician for a recommendation, and start with requesting an evaluation from the OT.
Many children whose behaviors are found to be on the autism spectrum receive special education services in autism-specific programs. Evaluations at school and by medical professionals help to determine if autism is the issue. If you have a question about whether your child exhibits traits of autism, be sure to start the conversation early, as that will insure earlier intervention and more academic success for your child. Click here for the characteristics of autism in children.
It’s possible to have sensory issues on their own, and it’s also very common for children with autism to have sensory issues. If your child has sensory concerns, it’s not necessary to assume autism, but it certainly warrants an investigation if some of the other characteristics are also present.
Auditory processing may also be an issue for your child. This is different from the processing disorder above, where it’s hard for the child to receive auditory input. This auditory processing issue involves the inability to get the message from the teacher when he or she is speaking. If your child repeatedly says, “I just didn’t hear him,” or “I don’t remember what she said,” this may be your sign that auditory processing is the issue. For children with ADHD, who appear not to be “paying attention,” you can assume that auditory processing is low. Think about how much of school is delivered auditorily, and it’s no wonder kids with ADHD struggle.
It’s also possible to be gifted and have a learning disability. Your child could exhibit “enormous capacity for novelty” and constant curiosity about topics way beyond the interests of her peers, and still struggle with math, reading, or writing. Do not be lulled into thinking your child is not gifted if one of these areas is not up to grade level. Ask for an evaluation to find out if your child is Twice Exceptional, meaning she’s gifted and struggles with learning in one or more areas. Sometimes gifted children have autism characteristics, as well.
Giftedness is determined by IQ testing. If a child doesn’t make the IQ cut-off for giftedness, the school district may consider the overall creativity, verbal adeptness, interest in advanced subjects, or advanced musical or art abilities to include the child in gifted programming. Many parents are reluctant to say, “My child may be gifted.” Please, please respond if your child is showing signs of giftedness. These children often get overlooked and become discouraged in school, leading to behavior issues. They are vulnerable to depression and anxiety when their learning needs go unrecognized. School personnel who are not attuned to gifted characteristics may not recognize what is causing misbehavior or withdrawal, so it’s up to parents to call attention to this issue, and ask for testing. Again, this is your right and your responsibility.
This can be a dizzying collection of information if you’ve never had to deal with it before. Do not blame yourself if you feel you should have addressed these issues earlier. You could only do what you knew how to do!
If you need help sorting these topics out, parent coaching is the ideal way to get that help. Information on coaching is here. Please write email@example.com or call 651-453-0123 for an appointment.