The transition into elementary school can be especially tough for our children with learning disabilities and challenging behavior. Whether they’ve been at home or in a preschool program, they’ve been in an environment that is more flexible and usually less overstimulating than the average kindergarten or first grade classroom. Once in elementary school, there are usually more kids to deal with; the day may be longer; the schedule may be less flexible; and the demands on them are greater.
Whatever the diagnosis, Attention Deficit Disorder (with or without Hyperactivity), an auditory processing disorder, Dyslexia, Aspergers, etc., our kids do better in school when we parents do our share. As stressful as it can be to reinforce learning at home, as difficult as it is to add regular contact with the school to our schedules, as much as we’d like to just let the teachers take on the challenges of our kids for some part of the day, our children are more likely to get more out of the school year if we’re enthusiastically involved. Here are some helpful reminders from the “pros” — parents of children with learning disabilities whose kids are generally doing well in school.
1. Provide the teacher with adequate information about your child at the beginning of the school year. No, it’s not wise to withhold information on the grounds that the teacher might be unduly influenced by it. Withholding information only means that the teacher isn’t prepared for your child’s needs or personality. Misinterpretations and mistakes may be made that will take weeks or months to undo.
2. If the child is in therapy or is receiving special services of any kind, sign releases so the professionals can talk to each other. Outcomes are generally far better when left hands and right hands know what each other is doing
3. Share any methods you have found to be effective in keeping your child happy, calm, and on task. The teacher will be grateful for it.
4. Set up a communication book and use it. Have your child carry a small notebook in his backpack. Before your child heads to school, write a short note about any issues or events that might have impact at school. Knowing about a sleepless night, the arrival of grandparents for a visit, conflict at home, etc., can help a teacher be more patient if there are challenging behaviors. Ask the teacher to return the favor by putting a sentence or two in the book at the end of the school day to keep you in the loop about achievements and challenges.
5. Be a good partner: Sign the education plan in a timely way. If you have objections to the plan, be active and timely in negotiating changes. Be aware that while a plan is unfinished, your child isn’t necessarily getting the help she needs.
6. Volunteer to help in the classroom when you can. But make sure your help is really helpful. Your presence may be distracting to your child. If that’s the case, there are other ways to help out. Consult with the classroom teachers. Sometimes, for example, they need help after school, setting up materials for lessons the next day. Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone take a couple of kids at a time to the library to work on a project so that the teacher can focus on the rest of the students.
7. Yes, you need to be your child’s best cheerleader, mediator, and advocate. But do your best to maintain a reasonable balance between your advocacy for your own child’s needs and some compassion for the teacher who is trying to teach all of the children in the class.
8. Get involved with a parent advisory committee (PAC) or parents’ support group. Other parents are the best sources of information and support. Being involved will help keep you informed about school-wide issues. If class sizes are too big or your school is under-resourced for educating children with learning disabilities, your collective voice is more powerful than any one parent can be.
1. Kids with learning disabilities need organization even more than other kids. External structure helps them feel safe when their internal ability to structure themselves is unreliable. Take the time the night before to help your child make sure everything she needs for school the next day is in that backpack to prevent morning panic. Establishing this habit is a skill that will help her throughout life. Set up a place where supplies for doing homework are readily available. A child who is already stressed about doing homework will only get more worked up if he has to spend half an hour looking for a ruler.
2. Many schools start introducing “homework” as early as kindergarten to get students used to the idea that there is an expectation that they will do some school work at home. In the early grades, it is usually something like a worksheet that doesn’t take much time. Help the school help your child develop the habit of doing some quiet academic activity after school each day. No homework? Stay in the routine. Use the time for making a picture for Grandma or for practicing an academic skill like counting money, telling time, or reading. Keep it as enjoyable as you can. The routine around homework time, even if it is only for 10 minutes a day, will only stay stable if it is regular, predictable, and nonnegotiable.
3. Don’t immediately take your child’s side if there are complaints about the teacher. Sometimes kids personalize their anxiety about school by picking on their teacher. Sometimes they are right that the teacher doesn’t like them or isn’t helping enough. You won’t know until you’ve had a calm and reasonable conversation. Meet with the teacher with an open mind and heart. You both have the same agenda: You both want your child to succeed.
4. If your child is taking medications, make sure to follow the protocol as exactly as humanly possible. Giving medication too late or too early may not have impact at home but may have consequences in school the next day. Be sure to note any medication changes in the communication log so the teacher is aware.
5. Make it clear to your child that school attendance is nonnegotiable unless he is sick or there are appointments that can’t be done after school. It’s not helpful to the atmosphere at home or to the child’s attitude about school if there is an argument about going to school every morning. Simply tell your child that adults have work and kids have school each day. End of story.
Good home-school communication and collaboration are the keys to helping our children with learning disabilities or differences manage the classroom environment and be a success in school. By doing our part, we can do a great deal to set a good school year in motion.