As the summer winds down, a new school year will soon begin. How can families with children who have Learning Disabilities get off to a good start?
We all know that school can be tough for those with LD and their families. Reading, writing and math may not be some of your child’s strengths. Now is the time to reflect on last year’s experiences and approach the new school year with success as the goal.
As you have likely discovered, not all children connect with every teacher or every environment, just as we as adults don’t connect with everything that crosses our path. But we can still find ways to help make the year a positive experience.
Practicalities: Mapping The School
Is it possible to tour the school before classes begin? This can be especially helpful if your child is moving to a new school. However, a quick review for those returning to the same school but a different homeroom can also be very helpful to calm anxieties about the new school year.
- Where are their classrooms or homeroom relative to the school entrance that they will be using?
- Are there multiple entrances/exits?
- Where are the washrooms located?
- Where are the library, gym and lunch areas or cafeteria, if applicable?
- Can a staff member map out the best routes for how to get to classes throughout the day if classes are on multiple levels or wings?
- If the school is large, can you get a floor plan to draw on? Code it with colours or symbols, take a picture for handy reference.
All About Lockers
Not just for junior or senior high anymore, some elementary schools now have lockers for older students, too.
- If your child will be dealing with a locker, where will it be relative to their class or homeroom?
- How do locks work?
- Can they bring their own lock or will one be assigned by the school? If assigned by the school, can it have a combination that is easy for your child to remember?
- How does your child learn to keep their locker organized? (Avoid the Locker Landfill Syndrome: Making a Tidy Locker Work for You)
Choosing Your Child’s Class
Can you have input into whose class your child is in? Especially during the early grades, many principals are open to chatting with you about classroom options. If possible, arrange to talk with the principal before school starts and classroom lists are finalized. Listen carefully to how they describe the various teachers’ instructional styles and classroom settings.
- Is it a split grade class?
- Does this teacher have a lot of experience working with complex learners?
- Whose personality and teaching style would be the best fit for your child?
- Are there other children in the class that your child knows or works well with? Remember that requests should be based on what is best for your child and not simply who a favorite teacher might be or what class your child’s best friend will be in.
As your child enters middle or high school, there are often fewer teacher choices that a parent can help to make, but we can still have a positive impact on how the year can go.
When Can You Meet With The Teacher?
Many schools offer a Meet the Teacher night in early or mid September and it is a perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to your child’s teachers. If it happens before classes start, even better.
- What are each teacher’s expectations with respect to assignments, testing and grading? Listen and consider how the teacher’s approach is going to fit with your child.
- Can you ask for a private meeting? This is the best way to share information and help the teacher understand how your child learns and some of the challenges that they have.
- How can you best reach the teacher throughout the year? Email? Zoom? By appointment only?
Respect the response times that teachers outline. Many teachers are involved with afterschool activities and programs, (and have a life of their own in the evenings!) so a 24 or 48-hour response window may or may not be reasonable. If you have a concern that needs a quick response, be clear about that when you leave a message. Better yet, if you are seeing signs of an escalating problem, don’t wait until it blows up into a major concern. Share it in a timely manner so that it can be addressed before it becomes a huge issue.
Until Next Time
Take advantage of EVERY opportunity to meet with the teacher.
- Attend the parent/teacher meetings following each report card or progress sharing event.
- Be prepared with a list of questions and concerns, and deal with big concerns first.
- Ask for a second meeting if needed. Teachers have a set time for each meeting in order to meet with all the parents. It’s important to respect the time block that you have, just as you would like others to, so a second meeting may be necessary.
- If concerns arise between reporting times, don’t hesitate to schedule a meeting. The sooner issues can be addressed, the better it is for all.
Teachers as Partners
In terms of sharing information, and for the year to be successful, parents and teachers need to work as partners. Teachers see your child in a classroom setting. You see them at home. Often the two environments reflect very different behaviours. The teacher may see a child that sits quietly in class, who appears to be busy but struggles with new material. You may see a child that regularly comes home in tears, is overwhelmed with work that needs to be completed and does not want to go to school on Monday mornings. This is important information to share so that parents and teachers have a complete picture of what is happening.
Your Unique Home Dynamics
My experience was that the more I could share with the teachers about what I was seeing at home, the better we could work together as a team to support my child’s success. Any number of factors that involve strong emotions or changes to daily routines can divert a child’s focus away from school. Consider sharing information that could impact learning such as:
- A parent that travels a lot for work
- Aging grandparents that are ill
- Other siblings with significant needs such as babies or ones with physical disabilities
- Your child starting new sports programs or lessons
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Getting or losing a pet
- Parents getting separated, divorced, married or becoming a blended family
What About IPPs?
A document that details the accommodations that your child will receive in class because of their LD is called an Individual Program Plan (IPP), Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a Learning Support Plan (LSP) depending on the school division you are with in Alberta. Pay attention to those IPPs as they can have a major impact on your child’s learning experience.
- How soon after school starts will IPPs be developed?
- At what point can you contribute to the process?
- How often are they reviewed?
- How old does your child need to be before they can participate too?
As your child matures, they should be an important voice in IPP development as they need to know what strategies and accommodations they are supposed to receive, but also to identify which ones they are likely to cooperate with. As they come to understand their IPPs, they will learn to advocate for themselves and ask for the supports that they require and are entitled to. This doesn’t happen overnight, or even within a single year of school. It’s a building process over a number of years that needs to be nurtured and practiced.
Will All This Effort Really Make A Difference?
Absolutely! Our kids with LDs can go on to be successful post-secondary students and adults, as I know from personal experience, and our partnership with teachers through their school years is a critical factor in making those college and university goals a reality.
About the Author:
Lorrie Goegan, B.A., B. Ed, Cert Sp. Ed., is a longtime parent mentor and a past speaker at numerous provincial and national LD conferences. She is also the parent of an adult daughter with LD.