A New School Year & Learning Difficulties Pt. 1

School has been open now for several weeks and concerns that were lulled away during the summer are surfacing again. It’s also possible that for the very first time this year you’re seeing evidence that your student is struggling in school.

You may be noticing one or more growing problems and are concerned that your student might have a learning disability.  Disappointing grades on the first report card of the school year? Assignments late or missing entirely? Low test scores? Lots of complaining about reading 20 minutes each day after school? Can’t decipher anything on the homework page except her name and maybe the date? Wondering why those math papers are so difficult for him, even with lots of help?

There may be a persistent feeling that he isn’t reading at grade level, doesn’t have the math basics, or is suffering from a lack of study skills. The next step in your efforts to help your child be a successful learner may not be entirely clear. You want to help but aren’t really sure where to start.

Your first step is to gather some information so that you can begin to see the entire picture. Lack of school success doesn’t automatically indicate the presence of a learning disability or a diagnosis of ADD. Before jumping to any conclusions, take some time out and do the following:

Very often we forget that the first logical step is to talk with the student. The age of your student will, of course, have a big effect on how you word your questions. In a friendly and matter-of-fact way explain that you know she is having problems with a few things in school and that you want to help. Ask if she knows what is difficult for her. Also find out what she likes the most about school and what classes and activities she looks forward to.  How does she feel when she’s about to take a test? Does she have trouble understanding what the teacher wants her to do? Is she losing some of her assignments?

These are just some starter questions and your conversation can be guided by what your student says. Try not to put words in his        mouth by asking something like “Are tests scary?’ or “Do you hate science?”

  • Be sure to find out if your student, of any age, is being bullied at school, on the bus, or in an afterschool program. Bullying can happen at any age, even in kindergarten, and students don’t always tell their teacher or their parents that it’s happening. Fear and anxiety seriously hinder anyone’s ability to focus and to learn and can lead to serious health problems related to stress. In some communities it is one of the major contributing factors for dropping out of school.
  • Make an appointment to talk with the teacher or teachers. Ask to see a folder of your child’s work and tests and also samples for comparison of what is considered to be strong, well-done and at-grade level work. Notice any differences between the quality of work done in the classroom and that done for homework with one-on-one help. Request scores for recent reading and math evaluations—is he working below grade level on tests and/or in daily work? Ask the teacher about anything obvious that appears to be contributing to a lack of academic success or evidence that there is a learning difficulty or learning difference.
  • If your child is missing assignments or is not prepared for tests, find out from the teacher how assignments are posted, how many days in advance does the class know that a test is coming, and if every student is expected to use a planner or some other way of keeping track of their work.

These ideas are a good starting point if you’re worried about your student’s school success.

You can see Part 2 of A New School Year for the next steps to guide you in this important effort

to help your child have a happy learning experience.