Planning for the School Year Starts Now

Jeffrey Katz

September is here and that means one thing: it’s time to go back to school. The summer has passed. Many students and families are energized and ready to get back to the books. But some families start the year with caution. Maybe because the previous school year didn’t end as well as hoped for, or maybe because it ended well enough, but getting there was difficult.

If you have some trepidation because your child struggles with academics, don’t wait too long to take steps NOW to ensure the best year possible. It is much better to have realistic expectations about school, than to set expectations that cause frustration and upset when they are (inevitably) unmet.

Be Proactive!

How can you make this year better?

First, meet your child’s teacher early in the school year. After a week or two, the teacher will likely have an initial impression of how your child is adjusting to the new school year. If things are going well, the teacher may be surprised that you want to meet so early in the school year, but, you know your child’s history in school. Schedule the meeting, and share what you know about your child’s challenges and what you have learned works best. At the least, it will provide teachers a “heads up,” so that if issues arise later, you have already laid the groundwork for further help from the school. If the teacher already has some concerns, take the next step in seeking out more formal interventions.

We know that children with ADHD have significant difficulties with such things as organization, focusing, completing work and behavior. About 40% of children with ADHD also have learning disorders, which involve specific problems with reading, writing or mathematics. There are other concerns a parent might have, such as how a child gets along with others, or difficulties with speech and language. Whatever your concern, know that the school is responsible for your child in ALL areas. Expect that teachers want to help. The school is required by law to seek out children who may need assistance.

Build A Support Team

If your child struggles at any time during the year, request a meeting with the school that includes the teacher and other school personnel. Sometimes the school will suggest a Student Support Team meeting. This is not a “formal” meeting bound by any educational regulations, but it may be a good first step for school staff to agree to try “unofficial” specific interventions to help your child. The interventions should be implemented at school, not “ideas” for you to try at home. Be sure to schedule a follow-up meeting in three to four weeks time to review the results of the interventions. If your child is doing well at that time, thank the school and encourage them to keep up the good work.

Consider Your Options

If your child is still not doing well after interventions have been tried, the next step is to request a meeting to consider your child for special educational services, usually called a Child Study Team meeting. This legal step is necessary to start the process of obtaining a comprehensive evaluation. While you may be concerned about placing your child in special education, as a parent, you always have the right to accept or deny services from the school. The evaluation determines how your child is doing in the school environment and whether there is a need for formal interventions.

A comprehensive evaluation should involve an assessment of your child’s cognitive functioning and academic achievement to determine if they have a learning disability. The evaluation can also assess the impact of your child’s ADHD in regard to schoolwork, as well as peer relationships and overall behavior. If you have concerns about your child’s language or motor skills, these can also be evaluated. The purpose of the comprehensive evaluation is to figure out what is going on and to provide recommendations for any needed interventions. A thorough evaluation allows you to have all possibilities covered.

Best Interest of your Child

I believe that schools and teachers want the best for each student. However, they may not understand each child’s learning needs. As a parent, there are steps you can take to aid that process and ensure that your child is happy and enjoying school.

It can be daunting and overwhelming at times, but if you educate yourself about your rights at school, your child can be successful. Each school district has a Parent Resource Center that helps parents understand the school system. Call them if you have questions, and to request a copy of the regulations about seeking evaluations. If you feel that you are not able to make any headway with the school, seek the services of an educational advocate or mental health professional that is familiar with your needs.

Remember – it is never too early to take the necessary steps that will ensure your child has a successful school year!

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