When I started my blog I wondered if I would always have something fresh to say but thankfully my mind is bursting with ideas from daily encounters with parents and kids.
It occurred to me that I should write about what to do when school isn’t going as planned. The honeymoon is over. This week two moms asked my advice on how to handle school problems and approach the staff. Since I spent over twenty years working as a speech-language pathologist in public and private schools, I know how that world works.
One mother’s son had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in place so he could receive speech and language services as well as reading help. He started second grade and her typically happy child is overwhelmed and dreading going to school. Kids are starting to correct him in class and his wonderful spirit is sagging. He’s not keeping up and he knows it.
A second mom was called in for a conference because her daughter in third grade is disruptive in class, always moving and lacking focus during group instruction. The social worker brought up the possibility of ADHD and suggested mom talk to her pediatrician and get back to her.
Here are some tips for approaching the school when your child is experiencing some difficulty:
• The school is your partner. It has been my experience that school personnel want the best for your child, just as you do. You are a vital part of the team to develop the best program for your child.
• Don’t approach the school as the enemy. So many times I’ve seen parents anticipate a negative response from the school team when in fact they are there to hear the facts and formulate the best educational plan for your child. Go in with a positive attitude and you will likely get a better result.
• You are your child’s advocate. You know your child better than anyone. Don’t be intimidated by a team of professionals around the table. If you come to a meeting prepared and with some goals in mind, be strong in your commitment to seeing them implemented.
• Be prepared. Write down your observations to share with the team. This is invaluable. It’s one thing to say your child’s attitude has changed about school. It is more helpful to be specific such as, “He cries every morning and doesn’t want to go.” Or “He said James says he talks funny.” Or “He misses directions when he leaves the room for special help.” As a professional on a team, information from home is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Often children can keep it together at school but will let out their feelings at home. Have a list of possible solutions to present to the team such as “increase his reading instruction” or “decrease his pull-out therapy and have it delivered in the classroom.”
• Be Open. Now that I am working in private practice, I have had a number of parents that don’t want me to communicate with the school, partly so their child won’t be labeled and also parents think if they don’t say anything, no one will notice. Honestly, good teachers pick up on problems right away. They would benefit from all the information to best serve your child. You aren’t benefiting your child by holding back information If your child is having attention difficulties and medication is not an option for you, then be honest and tell the team that. Now they will go forward and look for other strategies to help you child.
• Be flexible. A good team will come up with different recommendations. Be open to trying the strategies that they recommend. If something works for your child, such as preferential seating, or having directions written down as a reminder, then that is great. Maybe it will take trying a few strategies before the best results are seen.
• Be patient. It can take some time. Children are dynamic human beings, always changing and surprising us. Each year is a new challenge academically as they go through the grades. It might take some time to accurately assess your child and get the best plan in place. You can be patient as long as you see professionals implementing the plan for your child.
• Follow up. Even with the best of intentions, some pieces of the educational plan might fall through the cracks. Since you are your child’s strongest advocate, you need to follow up and make sure that the recommendations are being implemented. If an occupational therapy consult is recommended, then check and see if that has occurred in a timely fashion.
• Communicate, communicate!