Helping Your Child Succeed at School

Ideally, learning should be a partnership between the home and the school. This is especially so when a child has special learning needs and requires more support. Teachers do the best they can to maximize a class’ learning, but they need to be made aware of special circumstances that can make studies more challenging for a particular child. Similarly, teachers’ efforts are best supported and even enhanced by at-home parental interventions.

The following are some tips on how parents of a child with learning disabilities can work better with their child’s teachers:

Develop a Relationship
Your child’s teachers care about your child. Teachers want their students to become the best that they can be, and want them to benefit as much as possible from the classroom environment. So introduce yourself to your child’s teacher, and start to build your team. Attend PTA meetings, sign notes home, call in with questions or concerns. In order to establish rapport, make sure to give the teacher positive feedback as well as appreciation: “Johnny just loves your class! You obviously have a way with kids!” Small gifts at holiday times are also good ways of showing appreciation.

Communicate Your Child’s Special Needs
If your child has already been diagnosed with a learning disorder or other special needs, it’s important that you inform your child’s teachers as soon as possible. While parents understandably don’t want their kid to be discriminated because of his or her disability, they do want the best education possible. This may involve using special teaching or grading strategies, making various accomodations and so forth. You can help the teacher understand your child’s reactions, behavior and learning style by providing all the information you have. This will enable the teacher to bring out the best in your youngster. Even if your child does not have a formal assessment, you may know something that the teacher does not  about what motivates your child. Sharing your insights with the teacher can empower the teacher to achieve more with your child.

Be Prepared to Educate Your Child’s Teacher about Your Child’s Condition
Don’t assume that the classroom teacher knows all there is to know about various learning challenges. Children may have learning disabilities, ADHD, behavioral issues, trauma, anxiety or mood issues that interfere with their ability to learn. While almost all teachers have some background in special needs and special education, not all are experienced or have expertise handling specific conditions. It’s up to you as a parent then to provide classroom teachers with resources on what your child is going through, and specific tips on how, as teachers, they can help your child.

Communicate Your Child’s Strong Points
Remember to communicate your child’s strengths as well. Your child is not defined by his or her learning problems and challenges. If both you and his or her teacher are consistent in reinforcing positive areas of growth, then you can further strengthen these areas, and create a more resilient child.

Be Willing to be Part of the Assessment Process
When teachers notice changes in a child’s performance or behavior, they may want speak with you. Perhaps they want to make recommendations, urge you to get assessment or treatment for your child, or ask for your help. Since all of their concerns have to do with your child’s education, it’s most helpful if you listen carefully to what the teacher is saying. This is no time to be overprotective of your child or defensive about him or her. Instead, it’s the time to collaborate with the teacher and work together to bring out the best in your youngster. When the teacher sees that you take his or her concerns seriously, he or she will be even more inspired to work hard on behalf of your child.

Special Education

The traditional classroom setting is not always a good fit for a child with special needs. If your child has learning disabilities (i.e. reading and writing difficulties), he or she may have trouble keeping up with peers in a regular classroom setting. Similarly, if your child has a behavioral disorder, such as Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), then your child may need certain interventions that a regular classroom teacher is not trained in. And if your child is gifted in a particular way, then he or she may find the general curriculum insufficiently stimulating.

To help your child get the most in his or her learning situation, you may want to consider placing him or her in a special education classroom.

What is a Special Education Classroom?
As the term implies, a special education classroom refers to a learning environment that differs from the standard education offered in traditional public and private schools.

A special education classroom offers alternative teaching and classroom management styles, from instructors trained in special education. Materials are also adapted to the special needs of the learners; for instance children who are visually impaired may be given textbooks in brail or large font. The curriculum may also be atypical; a special education class for children with mental retardation and autism can teach self-management and social skills instead of math or science.

What’s Great about Special Education Classrooms?
In a special education classroom, students are encouraged to learn at their own pace, and thus the class need not follow the school curriculum prescribed by the government. Learning is very individualized; usually instructors tailor fit their lesson plan to the profile of the class, making each special education class unique.

Typically, teacher-learner ratio is very small, at times even 1:1. Parents, caregivers and learning specialists may also accompany students while taking their classes, unlike in the traditional classroom environment where classroom parental supervision is discouraged after the first day of class.

Should Your Child be Enrolled in a Special Education Class?
If you have a child with special needs, a special education classroom may be appropriate. However, it’s important to keep in mind both the advantages and disadvantages of special placement.

One of the main disadvantages of special education classrooms is that they tend to take kids away from what is perceived as a “normal” learning experience. Children miss opportunities to socialize and learn with the other “normal” (not identified as “special!”) kids their age. They may also feel like they are being ostracized for their disability or special needs, that their exclusion from mainstream classroom is a sign that they are inferior in some way.

Some educators argue that special education classrooms do not adequately prepare a child for the real world, as most social and working environments will require mainstreaming. Special education classrooms are largely dependent too on the skill of the instructor or administrator; with the term “special needs” having such a huge scope, that it’s quite possible for a special education class to fail to respond adequately to each child.

Below are some things you may consider as a parent:

Can My Child’s Learning Needs be Responded to Adequately in a Traditional Classroom?
Note that special needs differ in nature and degree, and your child may not require a special education classroom after all. A child with mild ADHD, for example, can successfully mainstream if his or her condition is adequately managed by therapy and medication. A child with hearing problems may be assisted by technology or a caregiver who provides sign language interpretation. If reasonable accommodations can be made, it might be best to limit the changes to a child’s life because of a disability or condition.

Will My Child Do Better in a Special Education Classroom?
On the flipside, all parents want their children to be the best that they can be. We all have to concede that general education is precisely that — general. Even if your child can perform adequately in a traditional classroom, if the individualized teaching methods and specialized equipment can assist them to achieve and break expectations, then by all means enroll your child in a special education classroom.

Can You Augment Special Education Classrooms with Other Supportive Activities?
What you sacrifice when you enroll your child in a special education class, you can recover by increasing their participation in other programs designed to increase their socialization and self-sufficiency. Programs geared towards developing talents, summer camps and the like can all augment what is lost in special education. In fact, there is nothing to say that special education classrooms can’t be taken alongside traditional classroom learning — perhaps your child can get the best of both worlds.

Can You Afford Special Education Classrooms?
Luckily, with the government’s growing recognition of the rights and needs of persons with disabilities, special education is offered for free in many states. There are also many non-governmental organizations and advocacy groups who offer special education for a low cost. But most private special education classrooms still require hefty tuition, understandably because one-on-one care is costly. Personal finances are a realistic consideration.

Selecting a Tutor

If your child is struggling in school, or has a learning disability, hiring a tutor is an option worth considering. Tutors can provide the one-on-one attention lacking in many traditional schools, and can zero in on the unique difficulties your child is experiencing. Tutors can also provide much needed support in order for your child to catch up with their peers, and participate more in class. Tutors can also replace YOU when your child rebels against working on schoolwork with you; in this way, tutors help preserve a healthy parent-child relationship.

If you want to maximize your child’s relationship with his or her tutor, consider the following tips:

Consider Your Tutor’s Credentials
Different children have different needs from their tutors. Some kids do well in class, but have tutors because parents lack time to supervise their assignments. Others need extra assistance in particular subjects like math or science. There are those with learning disabilities like dyslexia or dyscalculia who need specialized tools and teaching methodology. Some kids with behavioral issues are enrolled in tutoring services not for academic gain, but to increase their socialization with other kids.

Pick a tutor whose credentials match your child’s needs. Not all tutors are the same; some are high school or college students who need an extra gig, others are subject matter experts, and there are those with background and training in special education. A high school student, no matter how well-meaning and intelligent he or she is, may not be able to respond adequately to the needs of an ADHD child. Similarly, why hire an expert (who likely has a more expensive rate per hour) when a student tutor can provide the same help at a lesser cost for a child who just needs a little support?

Consider Your Tutor’s Rapport with the Child
A good tutor-student relationship is not just hinged on the skills of the tutor. There are also other intangibles like the tutor’s patience, consistency and courtesy. And then there’s rapport and chemistry. Some personalities just click and others just don’t!

Don’t assume that just because a tutor worked well with someone else’s child means they will work well with yours. Always ask your child if he or she is comfortable with the person you hired; after all, children learn better if they’re working with someone they like and trust. A tutor with a good rapport with your child can motivate your child better, and even raise his or her self-confidence and efficacy.

Establish a Partnership with Your Child’s Tutor
Having a tutor doesn’t mean that a parent can surrender all tasks in monitoring their child’s academic performance. Seek periodic reports and ask what you can do to help. Many tutorial lessons can be reinforced by the right parenting style, especially for children struggling with low self-esteem or poor impulse control. Provide your tutor input as well on how to best deal with your child. Let them know what works and what doesn’t work in motivating your child to do better. Let them know what the best day or time to conduct tutoring is (which is usually the time when your child’s mind is freshest).

Pick a Tutor Who is Growth-Oriented
The best tutors are those who work at helping students learn how to stand on their own, instead of making them forever dependent on tutoring. Look for a tutor who can actually teach your child learning skills and academic skills. Your child may benefit from learning how to write an essay or a research paper or a speech; or he may benefit from learning how to decipher the meaning in a paragraph or how to approach mathematical problems. Once your child knows how to learn, he’ll need less outside support. If your child has a learning disorder or other special need, try to find a tutor who has specialized training and/or experience.

Child Has Difficulty in School

A child may have difficulty in school for many reasons. Some kids aren’t motivated to learn because they are distracted by stress at home. Some kids have trouble concentrating because they have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and others have difficulty quieting down to learn because they have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Some children have intellectual challenges (developmental delays or mental retardation) and still others have specific Learning Disabilites. In this article, we will examine Learning Disabilities and their impact on school children and teens.

What is a Learning Disability?
A Learning Disability (LD) refers to the umbrella of biological, mental and behavioral conditions that result in difficulty with tasks related to absorbing, processing and applying information and skills. In other words, information may be hard to organize, hard to remember, hard to understand and/or hard to express. For instance, a child with a learning disability that affects arithmetic may have any of these problems:

  • Can’t make sense of what the teacher is explaining
  • Can’t recall what the teacher said
  • Knows what the teacher said but can’t explain it to others
  • Knows what was said, but can’t apply it to new arithmetic questions
  • Learning troubles associated with LDs are not due to a student’s lack of effort or his or her intellectual capacity. Areas that may be affected by a learning disability include reading, writing, performing mathematical processes, listening and speaking.

There are many different types of learning disabilities. Below are some common ones:

  • Dyslexia. Dyslexia is a genetic condition characterized by difficulty in reading. Contrary to popular opinion, dyslexia is not an illness that causes people to read backwards. But people with dyslexia do have difficulty with spelling, reading words aloud, and phonological processing or the manipulation of sounds. Some dyslexics have a condition called “strephosymbolia” which is the tendency to read similar symbols incorrectly, as they are spatially reversed in the brain. Thus, “b” may be read as “d” or “w” may be read as “m.” Whole words can be misread or remembered inaccurately due to this condition.
  • DysgraphiaAlso called agraphia, dysgraphia is an LD related to difficulty with writing. Specifically, people with LD have trouble with the fine motor skills and muscle coordination involved in writing. Issues with the language and perceptual centers of the brain may also contribute to the difficulty in putting words to paper.
  • Dyscalculia. Dyscalculia covers learning disorders related to problems with numerical operations and tasks requiring math reasoning. Issues faced by a person with dyscalculia include inability to understand the concept of numbers and quantities, basic operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, as well as logic problems related to numbers.
  • Dyspraxia. Dyspraxia is a motor learning disability. While its manifestation is in execution of movement, dyspraxia has less to do with muscle problems, and more to do with the brain’s ability to process and execute commands relating to physical action. Dyspraxia is believed to occur among 10% of the general population.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). While primarily a behavioral condition, ADHD is sometimes considered to be a learning disability because it impairs a person’s ability to concentrate on a task and finish what one has started. Because of this, kids often have trouble catching up to lessons in school. Hyperactivity also affects learning, as few kids with ADHD are able to keep still in the traditional classroom environment.
  • Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD). As the name implies, CAPD refers to difficulty in learning through hearing. A child with CAPD would have difficulty attending to instructions, listening to lectures, and distinguishing sounds from each other. Since it can interfere with classroom learning, it may also be considered a learning disability.

Worried about Child’s Development

Children develop at different rates. If your child begins to walk later than your friend’s child, this may reflect a simple difference between the two children. There is, after all, a normal range for learning to walk, with some children begin earlier and some beginning later. Lateness does not necessarily indicate some sort of problem. The same principle holds true for cutting teeth, learning to talk, becoming toilet trained, learning to read, learning to ride a bike, being ready to go to sleepover camp and learning to drive a car! There is a normal range for every aspect of human growth and development. The question is, of course, how do you know when your child is outside of that normal range? How do you know when to be concerned?

If you are worried about some aspect of your child’s development, consider the following tips:

Don’t Ask Your Friends; Ask Your Doctor!
Turn to an expert in child development to find out the normal age range for any aspect of your child’s development. This may be your family doctor, your pediatrician or a child psychologist. Taking your baby and child for regular “well-baby” checkups is a good way to stay on top of your child’s developmental tasks – just be sure to tell the doctor what your child is and isn’t yet doing. Although the internet offers a great deal of information as well, try to search government, medical and university sites for this kind of information; you are looking for accurate facts and figures. If you discover that your child’s skill level is significantly behind suggested averages, follow-up with a medical assessment.

Some Conditions Require a Long Time to Assess
A child may have a number of questionable symptoms. For instance, he may have trouble dressing himself independently at an age when his peers are already competent in this task. In addition, his speech may lag behind both in vocabulary and articulation. Finally, he may be immature for his age, displaying wild, aggressive and impulsive behavior more characteristic of a much younger child. These symptoms may be related – or they may not be. The doctor may need to watch the child’s development over the next year or two to see how things develop. This is particularly true for young children because young children have a larger range for normal development. In fact, some conditions cannot be accurately assessed until the child is around 6 years of age. Hyperactivity is one such condition. Many children outgrow hyperactive tendencies by the time they are six, but those who don’t may have ADHD (attention deficity hyperactivity disorder) or some other condition. Although the doctor may suspect the condition several years earlier, a formal diagnosis might have to wait. There are two benefits to taking your child for assessment at the earliest time: one is so that the doctor can follow the course of development in order to make an accurate diagnosis over time and the other is so that you can receive help in arranging for intervention “as if” the child has already received a diagnosis. For instance, both the parents and the psychologist may suspect that a child has Asperger’s Disorder. It will take a long time for an accurate assessment. However, the parents can begin early intervention “as if” the child does have the condition. This helps the child’s development so that by the time he is old enough for a proper assessment, the disorder (if he has it) has significantly improved! Earliest intervention gives the best results for every aspect of child development. Moreover, many interventions (although certainly not all) are experienced as fun by the child. This helps the youngster achieve the greatest growth with the least stress.

Early Intervention Makes the Greatest Gains
Many interventions that help children’s development are regular childhood activities. For example, puzzles can help eye-hand coordination and perceptual skills. Singing, dancing and listening to music can help auditory development and many types of brain development. Computer games can improve tracking skills, eye-hand coordination, fine and gross muscle development, problem-solving skills and other skills. Sports, gymnastics, dance classes and swimming lessons can improve gross motor development. Art classes can improve fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, laterality, attention to details, concentration and other abilities. And we could go on and on. The point is that you can give your child “enrichment” even in the absence of a formal assessment. If you see that your child is lagging behind in some aspect of growth and development, try to choose fun activities that build up that skill area. If you have a “teacher’s store” in your area, or if you look online for special education products and catalogs, you will find many resources you never even knew existed to help children’s development in numerous ways. Your child’s classroom teacher may have some ideas for you as well – express your concerns (and/or listen to the teacher’s concerns) and ask what sort of activities might be useful in order to help develop weak skills.

Child Doesn’t Speak Clearly

Your child is talking, but can’t seem to produce speech sounds properly. He or she stumbles with particular letters or letter combinations, such as s’s and th’s. Your child may also be omitting certain sounds when speaking, e.g. saying “I wah to ee donuhs” instead of “I want to eat donuts.” And on some occasions, your child simply gives up trying to say certain words.

Your child has trouble articulating.

Articulation refers to act of producing sounds. The clarity and accuracy of how you pronounce your letters and words represent successful articulation. Articulation is both a physiological and psychological process. If your child is having problems with articulation, the best thing to do is to consult a speech therapist or a speech pathologist as soon as possible.

What are the possible causes of articulation problems in children? Consider the following:

Your Child’s Developmental Stage
Some degree of articulation difficulty is normal in young children — hence, the baby talk. Toddlers 12 to 18 months, for example, have a marked preference for vowels and tend to drop consonants in their speech. It’s also not unusual for younger kids to have trouble producing sounds that require vibration in the throat such as r’s, or the deliberate control of their tongue such as s’s. Unless there’s an underlying medical or psychological impairment that will keep them from doing so, kids will naturally outgrow these articulation problems. Parents should be concerned only when their child skips the typical language development milestones.

Physical Problems
If your child’s articulation difficulty persists beyond what is expected from kids their age, then consider the possibility of a physical impairment. Hearing problems can cause poor articulation; kids, after all, learn language by imitating the sounds they hear from other people. Cleft palate, problems in the vocal cords, nasal allergies, gaps in the tooth and poor control of the muscles of the tongue can also cause articulation difficulty. There are also neurological issues that affect speech. A condition called Oral Apraxia, for example, results in the difficulty managing oral movements, and thus results to poor articulation.

Learning Disabilities
Articulation problems may also be caused by learning disabilities. Dyslexia, for example, can cause articulation problems in children, not because of any physical impairment, but because their letter recognition issues result in hesitancy when speaking.

There are also emotional issues that can cause articulation problems in children. When a child is nervous or self-conscious, he or she may have trouble producing particular speech sounds. It is not unusual, for example, for some kids to have trouble articulating during a speech or class presentation. Sadness, anger, and fear may also cause speech difficulty in children. If your child is having articulation problems during a particularly stressful transition, then consider the speech problem as a sign of hidden anxiety.

What to Do About It
You can obtain an accurate diagnosis of your child’s speech issue by arranging a consultation with a speech and language therapist. If the therapist feels that the child will simply outgrow his or her challenges, she’ll let you know. If the therapist feels that some remedial treatment is in order, she’ll let you know that as well. Sometimes school boards or community hospitals provide speech treatment free of cost but private services are also available.

Help your Child Deal with Academic Failure

A child spends about twenty developmental years in school. He spends more time on academics than any other activity during his growing up years. What happens when his talents and abilities lie outside the academic realm? What is it like to deal with regular academic failure and frustration? Whether a child has chronic and severe learning issues or whether he or she has simply gotten a low score on one particular project, academic failure can be traumatic, especially when it comes after much hard work and struggle. Not being able to make the grade on a regular basis tends to lower a child’s self-esteem; tutors, remedial classes and make-up tests can be demoralizing.

How can parents help their child deal with academic failure and frustration? Consider the following tips:

Intervene Early
It’s important that parents communicate their concern and support as early as the first signs of academic failure. While trusting our children to bounce back on their own is a good thing, parents can’t afford to intervene only when the final report card is released. Ongoing interest in the child’s school performance not only prevents sudden surprises at end of term, but also allows parents to offer emotional support, encouragement and practical intervention. Sometimes a little individual attention from a teacher or tutor can set the child on course. Sometimes boosting the child’s confidence in non-academic areas can buffer the frustration of negative academic feedback. The earlier parents can step in to address the situation, the less “repair” they’ll need to do later on.

Deal with Your Child’s Feelings
Parents understandably get upset when presented with a failing mark. But it’s important to remember that children have strong feelings about failure too — even if they come across as uncaring about their grade. Sit down with your child and ask them how they feel about the situation. Let them vent. And be willing to look past a defiant exterior; insolence can be a mask to hide a child’s feelings of vulnerability inside. Don’t be alarmed if your child “doesn’t care” about his low grades – that’s most likely a neat defence he is building to ward off feelings of shame and failure. Don’t overwhelm your youngster with your own feelings about his grades; instead, ask in a matter-0f-fact tone about how he feels and then reflect his words back to him. “I know what you IS frustrating when the teacher doesn’t give part-marks…and really annoying when you actually spent time studying and then get a mark like this.” After you “emotionally coach” the child in this way, spare him the lectures. If you have a handy tip to offer, first ASK him if he’d like to hear it and if he doesn’t want to, just leave it for now. He may ask you about it later. You can also offer help and intervention: “Would you like some help in studying next time?” or “Would you like me to ask the teacher to give you a little time after school to go over things?” or “Would you like a tutor?” and so on.

Help Ascertain the Reasons for the Failure
Instead of focusing on the disappointing outcome, focus instead on identifying the factors that contributed to the failure. Usually it’s not one reason, but a combination of many things like learning and/or attention issues, lack of motivation, lack of conducive study spaces or dislike for the subject matter. When academic problems are chronic, a professional psycho-educational assessment is the best venue for determining the cause. Most school boards can arrange this for their students and private psychologists also specialize in providing this service.

Get Your Child to Take Responsibility
Is your child at fault for the failure? Perhaps he skips class or chooses to watch TV instead of reviewing for an exam. If this is the case, it is important that parents get the child to acknowledge that he also has a contribution to the failure. This step is not to encourage self-blame, but to instill responsibility for one’s choices and behavior. And to make responsibility easier to accept, parents can also acknowledge their own shortcomings to their children and how they’ve addressed them over the years. Modeling how to take ownership for the consequences of one’s actions is one of the best gifts parents can give to a child.

Set Learning Goals Together
Parents can help children deal with academic failure by being future-oriented and proactive. Set learning outcomes together with your child, for example decide on acceptable and realistic targets for the next grading period or the next school year. Create a workable map on how to achieve those learning outcomes. Make plans too involving behavioral changes that need to happen in order to facilitate a better academic performance.

Child Worries About School Performance

School is a high-pressure environment. The student must compete with himself as well as with his peers. He wants to please himself, his parents and his teachers. It’s intense! Because most kids spend the majority of their day at school (and have to deal with homework once home), it’s only natural for them to feel stressed throughout the academic year.

How can parents help children who worry about school performance? Consider the following tips:

Equip Your Child with the Right Study Habits
School performance can be enhanced by having the right work ethic and knowing the tricks to better learning. If possible, hire a tutor to teach your child how to learn. That tutor (or, you, yourself, if you have the patience, skills, time and energy!) can teach your child mnemonics, or aids to better memorization, promote conscientious note-taking, provide some test-taking tips. If tutoring is not and option, check with your child’s teacher to see if he or she can provide a tutorial on study skills. In some schools, the guidance department also offers this service. You can also help by creating conducive study spaces at home, and make sure your child is always well-rested during class (by getting a good night’s sleep). When kids know how to approach learning like a science, they can feel less anxious about their school performance.

Encourage Your Children to Communicate Early if They’re Having Problems
Encourage your children to come to you or to their teacher ASAP if they are having difficulty in understanding or keeping up with lessons. It’s better to deal with a problem early, rather than feel the pressure when the problems have piled up. Similarly, it is always best if teachers know which of their students is experiencing worry about school performance. Knowing that a child has anxieties can make a teacher more sensitive about the things he or she will say, and proactive at providing encouragement. Let your child’s teacher know if your child is experiencing performance anxiety or learning anxiety of any kind.

Adjust Your Expectations Based on Your Child’s Natural Gifts
All parents want their children to be the best in their class — and there’s nothing wrong with encouraging kids to seek achievement. But the reality is, some children are more gifted than others when it comes to academics. There are also those with inborn skills that make them better adept than peers at certain subjects like math or language. If your child’s strength lies in other areas, such as sports or arts, then still encourage him to be the best that he can be in school, but also help him fulfill their potential in other areas. Try to have realistic academic expectations so your child doesn’t feel unduly pressured; it’s painful enough for children to receive low grades – they don’t want to know that they’re breaking your heart on top of it all.

Try Natural Remedies for School Stress
Bach Flower Remedies can help ease a child’s way through school stress. Larch helps with fear of failing. Cerato helps with feeling judged. White Chestnut helps with obsessive thinking (the kind that keeps you up at night). Rescue Remedy can help with test anxiety. Mimulus helps with shyness that might create social problems at school. You can find more information about the Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.

In addition, the use of EFT (emotional freedom technique) can reduce text anxiety, social stress and academic stress. You can find more information about EFT online and in books.

Seek Professional Help
When a child is suffering from academic stress and support and natural interventions are not enough to relieve the pressure, do consider seeking the help of a mental health professional. Panic attacks, stomach aches, headaches, depressed mood and chronic stress can all be alleviated with the right help. Ask your child’s pediatrician for a referral. Your child will not only feel better, but will likely perform better as well!

Hidden Reasons for Your Child’s Behavior

We are all familiar with visible disabilities: missing limbs, order profound retardation, blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, speech handicaps and so on. Children with such disabilities will be provided with special education that addresses their special needs. The community will be understanding and supportive of parents who are raising special children; everyone will try to help.

However, many children are suffering from “invisible disabilities.” These are emotional, physical and behavioural conditions that range from the most mild of dysfunctions to serious handicaps. Teachers may confront these conditions in their classrooms and parents may deal with them at home, without knowing that a disability even exists. Adults may see a child who is “difficult” or “uncooperative” or “unmotivated.” They may see a child who is “inflexible” or “spaced-out” or “over-sensitive.” What they don’t know is what to do about it. Parents raising such children tend to receive criticism rather than support; others assume that poor parenting is the culprit. In fact, various underlying, often genetic conditions, create invisible disabilites.

There are young children who function just a bit behind their age or grade level and who have nothing more seriously wrong with them than immaturity. Their social skills may be lacking and/or their academic performance may be weak. Sometimes social skills counselling can help, but often finding alternate areas of activity and competency can bolster flailing self-esteem. For instance, a socially immature child who receives lessons in art, music, sports, computer programming, cooking, sewing, or any other extracurricular activity, can grow in confidence and self-respect, despite social frustration in the classroom.

Some additional individual attention in academic subjects will often bring immature children to an appropriate level of functioning within a matter of months or a couple of years. Providing this extra help thereby completely removes the “disability.” However, failure to provide the help, can cause the child to remain permanently disadvantaged in the classroom. Not only will his academic performance lag (and thus threaten his adolescent schooling opportunities), but his frustration and boredom may also lead to behavioural and emotional difficulties, actually creating a psychological handicap when there was none to begin with. Similarly, there are some immature adolescents who may need temporary extra help and/or guidance in order to function successfully at the high school level. With such help, they may go on to be outstanding members of the class, and eventually, of the community.

Minimal Brain Dysfunction
An early term used to describe a cluster of behavioural, emotional and intellectual deficits was “minimal brain dysfunction.” The syndrome referred to unexplainable gaps in academic functioning in otherwise normal children. Dylexia (reading disability), discalculaia (arithmetic disability), dysgraphia (handwriting disabilities) and other academic weaknesses were found to exist on their own or in combination with any number of neurological “soft signs” such as fine or gross motor deficits, eye-hand coordination problems, information processing weaknesses, mixed laterality, poor directionality, poor social perception and other symptoms. Today, the term “minimal brain dysfunction” has been replaced with other diagnostic categories such as “learning disabilities,” “auditory processing deficits,” “ADD,” and “ADHD.” In recent times, the nomenclature has included Tourette’s Syndrome with all of its variants of Tic Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, Depression and various other complex disorders of social and cognitive functioning. The field is still evolving and new understandings and categorizations of these dysfunctions will emerge.

Mild and moderate cases of these disorders present themselves as “invisible disabilities.” A child is clearly not functioning up to par. Psycho-educational assessment will often reveal the criteria for a diagnosis of one of the above-named syndromes. Sometimes, a “sub-syndrome” may be postulated – some symptoms exist, but not enough to meet criteria for a formal diagnostic label. In either case, treating the symptoms with appropriate interventions usually yields excellent results. Extra academic support, alternative teaching strategies and occasionally, behaviour modification programmes, can allow the child to prosper within his normal classroom setting. With such help, the child progresses normally and may be able to integrate into the mainstream without further intervention. In more serious cases, the child may require a slightly modified curriculum in addition to the special educational interventions already described. With such help, the child is able to stay within his regular school setting and develop normally along with his peers. Sometimes, psychological support given to the parents and medication or naturopathic treatment given to the child, provides further assistance and ensures the best prognosis. Often, where the child has received appropriate support, the disability becomes a non-issue by the period of adolescence or adulthood. In other cases, the disability remains, but the child has acquired many coping skills and alternate areas of successful functioning that allow him to succeed in life. Only in the most extreme cases of such disabilities, is special schooling required, taking this category completely out of the “invisible handicap” designation.

Disorders of Mood and Motivation
There are also children with a wide range of emotional and behavioural difficulties that become invisible handicaps. The “unmotivated” child may be a perfectly normal youngster who daydreams or has interests in non-academic endeavors. This can also be the “gifted” child who is not sufficiently challenged within the classroom setting. Without intervention, these children may fall further and further behind in their studies. Eventually, lack of academic success may lead to behavioural difficulties, as described above. However, with minimal intervention such as classroom withdrawal for extra academic attention specifically geared to their unique learning style, these children can be redirected to a successful learning path. Bach Flower Therapy offers many remedies that treat disorders of motivation (you can find more information about Bach Flowers online and on this site). In more persistent cases, psychological counselling may be helpful as well.

The “behaviour problem” child may be suffering from low self-esteem, depression, chemical and brain disorders, family problems, problems of impulse control and/or immaturity, or other physical or emotional challenges. Left unattended, this sort of child may enter a cycle of failure in which teachers give up on him and he gives up on himself. Eventually such a child is at great risk academically, emotionally and spiritually. However, in-school treatment can make a huge difference. Extra attention, opportunities to shine both academically and non-academically, behaviour modification programmes can all be combined with outside-school interventions such as psychological counselling, nutritional and naturopathic interventions, medical interventions and so forth.  Often, parent counselling is an invaluable component of the child’s wellness programme, as parents are provided with at-home interventions that can impact powerfully on both family and academic functioning. When the needs of the child are met, the best outcome will be achieved.

Similarly, children who have early-stage mental health disorders such as OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), anxiety disorders or depressive mood disorders (which can be expressed both as sadness and as intense irritability in children), can be kept in their school environments while special allowances are made for their unique needs. This may involve arranging exemptions for medical and/or psychological appointments, altering curriculum demands or schedules to reduce pressure, and providing extra academic support as needed. Without such support, these disorders may worsen significantly due to intolerable levels of stress. They then become “obvious handicaps” rather than “invisible” ones. However, with support, many mental health disorders will become less disruptive or even improve significantly, enabling the child to lead a normal life.

Being Singled Out
Some parents are concerned that children will suffer from being singled out for special attention within the school setting. As we have seen, greater suffering may result from leaving minor problems unattended. Moreover, it is important to note that children generally enjoy the special attention that they receive. Most children, for example, look forward to spending time with their tutor, therapist, resource room teacher or guidance counselor. These professionals are all trained to make children feel successful. The withdrawal experience is thus a very positive one for youngsters. With parental endorsement and support, youngsters can actually feel privileged to receive this help. Making extra help a normal and common part of school experience by providing it to more children more frequently, will also help to reduce any sense of embarrassment or discomfort on the part of individuals.

Our attitude as a community is very important. We must become comfortable with the concept of providing educational and emotional support for children as a primary intervention. We must also understand that the emotional and behavioural profile of children changes dramatically from the period of kindergarten to the end of high school and beyond. A “wild” six-year-old can turn out to be a well-functioning adolescent and adult – especially if he has received the help he needed along the way. Providing a child with help does not make the child “sick” – but failing to provide that help might very well do so. Sometimes professional assessment is an important part of a child’s health plan. Having a child assessed and labelled, does not “doom” him; rather, diagnosis and assessment guides parents and educators to choose the best interventions to help the child grow up “normal”! Lack of proper assessment can sometimes cause a child to miss the earliest intervention that would produce the best outcome. Moreover, the delay of professional assessment may result in a child with entrenched negative patterns that are much harder to uproot. Parents who refuse to have their child assessed despite expressed concern from teachers, are sometimes functioning like people who are afraid to go to the doctor when they are experiencing worrying symptoms. If they went to the doctor early enough, their health could probably be saved. Refusing to obtain a diagnosis for fear that something will be found, is understandable – but self-defeating. It is the diagnosis that permits the healing to begin!

Our job as parents and educators is to help children develop to their potential. Meeting their unique needs helps accomplish this goal. The more help we give, the less stigma we experience. The more help we give, the less dysfunction will exist. The more help we give, the more adults we can produce who are healthy, whole human beings – the products of our educational system and our community.