By Jennifer Imig Huffman, PhD, and Sandra Clark, The ABLE Center
When children enter the school system, parents become part of a team that includes the child, the teacher, and the school staff/administration. As parents, we hope that our children are academically, emotionally, and socially successful with this new team. Unfortunately, academic success is difficult for some children and the steps that lead from initial identification of difficulties to intervention can be a lengthy one. Therefore, understanding the problem-solving steps to take if there are educational concerns for your child is important.
Parents may be the first to notice that their child is having difficulty in school. If this happens, bring your concerns about your child to the teacher, who is usually the first, and best, point of contact. Teachers have the unique perspective of being able to compare each child to their peers within the classroom. This perspective helps them provide insight that parents typically do not have. For example, you may be concerned that your first-grader isn’t reading as well as the neighbor’s child. Discussing your concern with the teacher may allow them the opportunity to closely observe and possibly monitor your child’s reading to either assure you that your child is progressing normally or to provide problem-solving interventions to see if the issues can be addressed with more focused attention.
On the other hand, teachers are sometimes the first to identify when a child is struggling. Typically in this instance, the teacher will contact you and discuss their concerns. Teachers are often searching for insight as to whether you have seen similar difficulties at home and possibly also for strategies that you have used with your child that have been successful. For example, the teacher may inform you that your child becomes overwhelmed when completing work with multiple problems on it, and you may be able to share the strategies you have used in working with them at home, such as covering all of the items on the page except for the one they are working on. Communicating your knowledge about what you see at home may help teachers to determine first-step strategies to try at school.
When difficulties are noted — whether it is by parents, teachers, or sometimes even the child — the next step is to determine if they are transient reactions to the environment, subtle individual differences, or are indicative of a more pervasive difficulty. For example, students may have a hard time adjusting to the demands of the classroom including listening, paying attention, and sitting for longer periods of time. It is typical for children to experience adjustment difficulties when entering a new school setting, new classroom, or new routine and this adjustment may impact their ability to focus or stay seated. A child in transition may show what looks to be signs of ADHD but when they become more adjusted to the demands of the environment, their symptoms subside. On the other hand, if these symptoms are pervasive, long-lasting, and adversely impact their academic and/or social emotional functioning in the school setting, then further problem-solving or evaluation may be needed.
Within the school setting, it is often difficult to differentiate between transient difficulties that will improve with time versus chronic difficulties that will likely not improve without specific intervention. Therefore, a “wait-and-see approach” is often used, especially if the child is showing difficulty at the beginning of the year. With this approach, it is important to follow up with the teacher (2-3 months at the most) to determine if there are still areas of concern. If concerns are still noted, interventions within the classroom setting may be used to determine if differentiated learning or environmental strategies can help improve the child’s functioning.
As a parent myself of a child with a learning disability and also as a professional who works with children with disabilities, I am all too aware of the feelings of apprehension and concern about how well our children will succeed in school. Everyone wants our children to succeed in school. And when parents and school personnel work together as a team, all children can succeed.
For more information, contact Dr. Jennifer Imig Huffman at The ABLE Center in Bloomington, IL at 309-661-8046 or theablecenter.com.
Dr. Huffman, founder of The ABLE Center, is a developmental neuropsychologist. Sandy Clark recently joined the ABLE Center staff after completing her pre-doctoral internship and specializes in interventions for children with neurodevelopmental conditions. They work closely with the child, the parents, the school, and other community providers involved in the child’s care to help them succeed at home and school.
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