Where to start? Part 2: at school
It’s pretty tough to watch your child struggle at school, especially when it leads to him or her giving up. Knowing that a good education is a big part of future success, you encourage the student, provide structure at home, do all the right things – but low grade reports, homework battles, and cries of “I HATE school” are your reality month after month.
It may be a phase. If you’ve reached the conclusion that it isn’t, what can you do? Here’s an overview of what we experienced or looked into. Many of the topics raised will be explored in more depth later.
(Note: we’ve only dealt with public schools. We were told that private schools, in general, were not as equipped as public schools for assisting students with special learning needs. Please leave a comment if you’ve found this to be true, or untrue.)
- Find out from the teacher(s) what they are observing in the classroom regarding your student. It may differ from your student’s version. Teachers have many, many demands on them, but at least half of the ones we’ve dealt with have been willing to take the time to help troubleshoot problems.
- Teachers or administrators may have ideas on accommodations or modifications they are willing to try.
- You may want to have your child evaluated for learning disabilities by school district personnel. The testing and evaluations will occur during school hours, at no cost to you. There will be a meeting to discuss the results. We had Nathan evaluated by a private testing center first, having been warned that school district testing may not be reliable (since districts have a financial interest in not spending on students found to have special needs.) We later had school district personnel evaluate Nathan, and the results seemed reasonable. In our case, the warning was unfounded.
- Here are a couple of great websites we’ve used that can guide you through the getting-help-at-school-process: LD online, and Great Schools. There are many other websites to try, and they can all explain things a lot better than I can!
- You may hear about 504 plans, which, by law, provide accommodations for disabled students, including those with AD/HD and learning disabilities. Even more formalized is having an IEP (Individualized Education Plan.) What’s the difference? Here’s a link to a site that explains: http://specialchildren.about.com/od/504s/f/504faq2.htm When Nathan was doing poorly in high school, we started with a 504 plan. Long story, (subject of a future post), but the plan was not implemented. The following year he ended up with an IEP.
- IEPs come under the umbrella of special education. I didn’t think Nathan would need “special education,” as he has at least average intelligence. We learned that special education covers more than students with low IQs. Nathan was designated as having emotional disturbances to the extent that he couldn’t function in regular education classes.
- There’s a lot of legal stuff associated with IEPs. Schools have to follow the law or risk being sued. I recommend that parents learn the basics, from websites like Wrightslaw and other sources like TASK, or by looking into free or hired advocates who can go to IEP meetings with you.
- You may want to consider alternatives to regular public schools. We looked at a local charter school and a church-run school that were largely independent study. For our younger son Alan, we looked into online high schools, some of which are free and accredited. We concluded that for our situation, the drawbacks of independent study outweighed the gains. The nearest private school we found for students with learning disabilities, AD/HD, or Asperger’s is the Frostig School in Pasadena: an hour away on a good traffic day, and tuition is $27,000. We didn’t pursue that!
- Both of our boys went to professional tutoring services for a while. Another long story, but the outcome was we spent thousands of dollars and saw no gain for either son. Of all that we’ve been through, our experience with tutors is the one that gets me riled the most. Good idea, bad result. Anyone have a different experience?