By Jennifer Imig Huffman, PhD, The ABLE Center
In last month’s article, I discussed the initial steps to take if you are concerned that your child is struggling in school whether it is academically, socially, or emotionally. Communicating with your child’s teacher about your concerns and collaboratively working as a team with the teacher and other members of the school staff are important first steps.
In many instances, these initial problem-solving steps are sufficient to help a child that is struggling achieve better school success. However, sometimes the child’s difficulties require greater team efforts and extensive problem solving. When this occurs, there are specific steps that need to be taken to identify the difficulties, evaluate what areas of school functioning are impacted, and design appropriate interventions. Understanding the steps to more formal school-based interventions for your child is important.
Classroom interventions typically start off more general and become more specific if learning and/or social-emotional difficulties do not improve. This approach is called Response to Intervention and includes the problem-solving approaches that schools implement in the general classroom to assist a child with the learning process. The language that schools use for the level of interventions being provided is “Tiers.” The first Tier is the core curriculum and supports provided to all students. For example, each regular classroom has a specific grade-based curriculum for all students, such as the general reading curriculum for first grade. Teachers use bench-marking measures throughout the year to determine whether the students are making adequate progress using this general curriculum. Parents are usually given these scores several times throughout the year so that you can see how your child is doing compared to his or her peers in the classroom and, at times, across the state.
When a child does not respond to the general methods of learning being used in the classroom, then teachers typically modify the instruction to see if a different strategy might be more successful. For example, if a child is not gaining expected reading skills using the general Tier 1 classroom curriculum, they may be provided an intervention (Tier 2) such as placing them in a small reading group where other children with similar instructional needs can be taught together. Progress will be closely monitored to evaluate whether the child is making better gains with more personalized instruction. Many times these small adaptions are all that is needed to advance your child forward in their learning. However, occasionally more pervasive difficulties exist that require even greater and more formalized intervention.
The highest level of differentiated curriculum is Tier 3, which is used to provide the most intensive support to children who are at risk and who do not respond to the less intensive or differentiated levels of instruction. The frequency of the support and the monitoring of the progress at this Tier is also the most intensive of the RTI levels. In some schools, Tier 3 is considered the same as special education and, in other schools, Tier 3 is not the same as special education.
Children with academic and/or social-emotional difficulties within the school setting may also be eligible for special education services through an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) in which changes in curriculum, related service support, and accommodations within the school setting can be provided. For example, a child with substantial reading difficulties may be eligible for an IEP through which they may receive intensive and individualized instruction in reading (inside or outside of the general educational classroom); specific reading resources to use at home; related services such as speech therapy for a language difficulty; extra time on reading tests due to low reading fluency; or the option to have tests read to them. The process to an IEP can be long and arduous and is only taken if the child’s difficulties significantly impact their academic and/or social emotional functioning and are chronic and/or pervasive.
Children within the school setting who have a medical disability that adversely impacts their academic and/or social emotional functioning may be eligible for accommodations through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 is based on the civil-rights of the individuals with disabilities and prohibits organizations from excluding or discriminating against the individuals due to their disability. For example, a child with ADHD with related executive functioning deficits, may qualify for Section 504 accommodations for organizational assistance, extra time on tests, the ability to take tests in a different room free from distraction, and/or the ability to use technology in the classroom. These or other accommodations can be provided and modified across time to allow them the ability to benefit from education the same as their non-disabled peers.
The best scenario for the child is when the schools and parents work together at each of the problem-solving stages to determine what will be most effective for the child. Maintaining this collaborative relationship is the key to helping the child achieve educational success.
For more information, contact Dr. Jennifer Imig Huffman at The ABLE Center in Bloomington, IL at 309-661-8046. Dr. Huffman, founder of The ABLE Center, is a developmental neuropsychologist. She and her staff work closely with the child, the parents, the school, and other community providers involved in a child’s care to help them succeed at home and school.
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