At the beginning of the school year and you held your breath hoping your child has made a great transition to the new year. For some parents, the hope that this is a new year and last year’s problems have disappeared – academic, social, behavior. It has been quiet from the school and your child seems to be managing as far as you can tell.
If you have an elementary school child you hope to hear that your child’s reading and math skills are developing as expected for their grade and they are moving along with their peer group. For your middle to high school student you want to hear that your son or daughter is a great kid, good worker, and academically sound. Conferences can be a feel good night or your worst fear.
Often times parents of elementary school children go to conferences and are told, among other things, “Everything is fine, or Give it time, or Things will get better, or All kids have trouble learning this or Your child is too young for you to be concerned yet” – all common phrases given as answers to parents questions or concerns. But you notice your little one does not seem to be catching on to reading and/or math facts are a big problem.
Conferences, especially at the middle/high school level are usually short and provide little opportunity for the parents to ask questions. At the middle/high school conference, you are told your teenager needs to study more, work harder, ask questions, and pay attention in class – all of which makes sense at the time but begs the question – why? Your son/daughter used to love school. You still leave with the feeling that something is not right.
Recognize the Signs
Parents of little ones are often the first to recognize that their child is having difficulty learning especially if they are becoming frustrated while reading. Early struggles with reading should signal intervention. If your child is showing at risk learning problems, early intervention should get them back on track. Monitor their progress and make sure they are making adequate improvement.
If intervention does not seem to make a substantial difference, it may be that your child has a learning disability. The sooner a learning disability is identified the better the opportunity for long term success in learning.
The most common problem tends to be a child’s learning to read. It is never too early to address learning problems especially in reading. Do not be put off when asking questions concerning your child’s learning. Learning disabilities are not out-grown and, without intervention, will make learning more and more difficult for your child.
For the parents who have the middle school and/or high school student who wonder what happened to their happy, progressing elementary child, remember this – 99.9 percent of all students enjoy learning when they have success. The key word is success.
How many times have you been told your son or daughter is lazy, needs to study more, pay attention in class, complete their homework. This makes sense except you see how hard your child is trying and how frustrated they have become. Boys, in particular, will not let anyone know they are struggling – there are few boys that will let anyone, especially, their classmates, know that they are lost academically. They often take the role of the student who does not really care and, therefore, poor grades are understood. Unfortunately, many of these guys soon become the class clowns and behavior becomes an issue. Girls usually pull themselves into a shell – try to make themselves invisible in class. Girls, like the boys, can easily lose their confidence and fall into changes of behavior at school and home.
Trust Your Instinct
Do not assume lack of achievement is due to lack of effort. Talk to your child, seek the help of professionals in determining what may be causing the problem. Often times, the student does not understand why they are struggling and they will need their parents to be their advocate in investigating the cause.
Believe it or not, a learning disability can be discovered at the middle school/high school levels, especially for the above or high ability student. It is during these years that ability alone will not translate to success in the classroom. Learning disabilities at this age may become apparent in the student who manages to survive the early years academically: satisfactory grades, no behavior issues, no red flags. The student with average ability or less caused no one at school to suspect there may have a learning disability. These kids were never on the radar screen. They move through school and because they are survivors, no one seems to question why their achievement is labored.
The problem may be a disability. Another issue for learning is attention deficit. Middle/high school bring demands that can cause a child with attention deficit to hit the wall – many teachers, different expectations, less movement and more lecture, higher academic, organizational, and test taking demands. I hear all the time from parents – it cannot be an attention issue: my child can play video games for hours. Please do not discount the possibility of ADHD because your child can sustain attention doing something they enjoy. The school environment and required focus are not the same.
It is never too soon or too late to get help for your struggling child. Be proactive, seek help from professionals that can help you untangle the educational web – your child’s future depends on it.
If any of the above sounds familiar, please join Eileen Parmelee, an educational advocate for children and families and Katy Hopkins, a special education attorney, for a free parent seminar entitled Untangling the (School) Web: A Parent’s GPS to Special Education on Tuesday, November 11 at 7 p.m. in the lower level conference room of the One Independence Place Building located at 4807 Rockside Road , Independence. RSVP: 440- 708-0315 or [email protected]