Five Tips for Addressing Your Child’s Learning Difference

By Mary Stewart-Oliver, M.A., M.Ed., PPSC

learning difference

Families must stay engaged with schools to support kids with learning differences. PHOTO BY MOKRA/FREEIMAGES.COM

With California public schools ranking the lowest in the nation for student-teacher ratio –an average of 24-to-1 compared with the national average of 16-to-1 – it can be difficult for teachers to hone in on the needs of each student. This is especially true for students with learning differences, but one critical element can help yield greater success: family involvement.

Intervention should not be left solely to educators. Collaboration involving educators, specialists, administrators and family members yields the greatest results. Whether you are a parent, caregiver, older sibling or other loved one, the following tips will keep you proactively involved in a child’s academic intervention:

  1. Confirm that a positive student-teacher relationship exists. Targeted intervention takes a lot of time and investment for educators, and the challenge often brings forth teachers who are passionate and seek to find strategies that will work for each student. However, your student must respond well to and have a comfortable working relationship with her or his teachers for these strategies to help. Talk with your child about their relationship with their teachers to help ensure that your child is encouraged, supported and motivated to achieve success.
  2. Help restore the student’s self-esteem. Many students have low self-esteem due to academic and social struggles, bullying and lack of proper educational support. It is important for teachers to highlight and teach to a student’s strengths to help compensate for their weaknesses. However, family members must also recognize their struggling child’s strengths and maximize their talents through activities at home in order to further build their confidence.
  3. Ask questions. Do not sit back and assume that everything is being handled perfectly. Remember that it takes a team to implement steps to success, and that you are the most relevant part of that team. If you suspect something is not as it should be, have concerns about the use of particular strategies or your child’s response to an intervention, or you are just not sure about what is taking place, it’s your right to ask about it.
  4. Foster open communication with your child. Especially for students in fifth grade and beyond, open communication is vitally important. Helping them to understand their own academic and social struggles and reinforcing strategies encouraged by teachers and specialists helps them overcome their struggles and promotes acceptance, resulting in a profound impact on their academic performance. Children need to be comfortable with who they are and accept their learning differences so that they can be proactive advocates for themselves in the future.
  5. Monitor your child’s progress. Just as schools measure a student’s skills and use data to evaluate their progress, families should monitor social engagement, academic focus and organization and time-management skills to help track the student’s growth. Monitor your child’s progress for your own knowledge and to provide helpful feedback to their educators.

The ultimate goal of targeted intervention should be to give students the skills and tools to function as independent learners with the most effective but least intrusive intervention – and the utmost support from teachers, specialists and family.

Mary Stewart-Oliver is a counselor at The Prentice School in North Tustin. She provides transition services and responds to the academic, career, social and emotional needs of the students.

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