WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR CHILD CONTINUES TO STRUGGLE
By Judi Munday, www.helpinschool.net
If your child consistently has difficulty with learning and schoolwork on a consistent basis, you may wonder if you have been doing something wrong. You may even have asked yourself whether the child needs a different teacher or whether your child might be a “slow learner.” Perhaps, you’ve wondered whether you are not teaching with the right “learning style.” Let me reassure you! After helping hundreds of homeschool families, I have seldom found a parent to be the primary cause for a child’s learning struggles! To start, you should check whether you are using the most effective approaches for instruction. For example, do you review prior material before you introduce new skills? Do you provide specific feedback, clearly stating both what was done well and what the child should improve? When your child becomes “stuck”, do you stop to analyze the task or consider that he lacks pre-skills? If you are using effective teaching strategies, what else might be causing the problem?
Here is another possibility: you child may be “curriculum disabled!” By that, I mean that his struggle may be due to poor curriculum design or inadequate teaching materials! Not all books and materials marketed to homeschool families are well designed or logically organized. Some texts do not even teach the foundational skills your child needs to move ahead. Ask yourself: Does your child’s textbook present information in a well-sequenced way? Does it jump from topic to topic? Maybe the math or vocabulary books overemphasize drill or do not provide adequate practice. Remember, too, that even if a particular program worked splendidly for one of your children, that program could be a cause of some problems for another. If so, consider trying a different curriculum or program. Visit www.helpinschool.net to find out more about choosing a curriculum that is appropriate for your child.
If you have checked both your teaching and the curriculum, now it is time to look within your child. Other factors frequently affect educational and social development: Diet, environmental toxins, allergies, emotional issues, and/or immaturity, so let’s start with basic physical factors that impact learning: vision and hearing. Have you had them checked? In order to do school work, your child needs good visual acuity. Your child may need corrective eyeglasses, but not all vision problems arise from poor acuity. Occasionally, reading delays are linked to weak visual tracking. Please note that research consistently shows that vision therapy may help a child’s vision, but it is not a cure for dyslexia. Practitioners know that students with dyslexia complain of fuzzy text, shifting letters, and other visual irregularities — even with 20/20 eyesight. The most significant reading problems arise from deficits in how the brain processes sound-to-symbol relationships.
Hearing is as critical as good eyesight to develop fluent language and communication skills. Communication is more than the child’s ability to hear, speak and attend to spoken language. There are three primary forms of language delay. Expressive language delays make it hard for the child to retrieve a particular word, or to put ideas into words, oral or written. Receptive language delays make it hard for the child to acquire new information or to understand what is read or heard.These make it hard for the child to remember new information. Social language deficits refer to the way the brain interprets how something is said versus what is said. These are deficits are the non-verbal aspects of most communication: Facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, and recognizing the appropriate physical space between two speakers.
Language or communication deficits spill over into every area of the child’s world, because language is at the heart of most academic work: reading, listening, remembering new information, and following multi-step directions. Delays in communication make it more difficult to master writing, spelling, and reading. Language deficits also affect behavior: children with language processing deficits often display unprovoked outbursts, frustration, inattention, or fail to answer questions appropriately. One common characteristic is that your child frequently learns something and forgets it the very next day! The child may seem disobedient or forgetful – but he may be doing his very best to understand what you want from him! If your child passed his hearing test and yet displays similar behaviors, consider that it may be your child’s brain does not have the ability to process what his ears can hear.
If you do suspect a language-based delay, it is critical to seek outside help or testing at an early age, because research consistently shows that earlier interventions bring better long-term learning outcomes for the child. For children on the autism spectrum there is even more emphasis on earlier intervention, and early research shows markedly better outcomes when therapies have begun as early as possible.
Many homeschool families prefer to “wait and see” when a child cannot communicate well in the early years or shows delays in learning to read. They hope things will get better as the child matures. Keep in mind, however, the time you spend waiting, means your child has missed opportunities for learning! It should come as no surprise that it is challenging to explain any struggling learner’s behaviors in a simple way.
Neurologists who study the infinite and varied complexities of the brain and its infinite functions have yet to understand the brain’s beautiful organization adequately. We cannot view the details or the neurological circuits of the brain’s activity, but we can learn a great deal from what we observe of a child’s behaviors. We can then draw conclusions about what is causing the child’s weaknesses.
You need to know if your child is more than two years behind in basic skills of reading or math. It will help you if you compare your child’s present levels of performance to one of many developmental checklists available from your pediatrician, books, or online inventories. Whatever you choose, create an objective inventory of your child’s present strengths and weaknesses – subject by subject. Focus primarily on oral and written language, math and reading. You will have a much better idea about whether your child needs an outside evaluation for learning disabilities.
If you have realized it is time to get professional help, what happens next? Seek a homeschool-friendly educational consultant in your immediate area if possible. (You may need a referral from your pediatrician to have insurance coverage for outside professionals to do more comprehensive testing.) Once you contact a professional to evaluate your child, he or she will ask about your child’s educational and medical history, including birth complications, childhood illnesses or emotional trauma, early learning behaviors, and social skills. Such small details are often of great significance to an evaluator or professional, since they lead to insights that may be very important. Describe your child’s specific academic issues that cause you particular concern and refer to your objective inventory. Try to be as thorough as possible. After compiling the background information, the professional will administer a battery of diagnostic tests and observe how your child performs specific tasks or answers standardized test items.
Once you have a report from the evaluator, make sure you ask them to relate their findings to how you can apply their results to your homeschool situation! Be certain that you do not try to make too many changes at once! If you do, you will not know which changes you made are the ones that worked and the ones that did not! J.M.