“The new school year is upon us! With a over a month under our belts, our children with special needs are beginning to accept that summer is over and this new school year is for real! For our children with dyslexia, school work, homework, and any task that includes reading or writing is tough. Children with dyslexia are relieved during the summer when this demand is decreased significantly, and begin to dread the new school year with all of its perceived difficulties.”
As a Special Education Teacher, Educational Consultant, and Executive Functioning Coach, I’m exposed to the many sides of special education… sometimes all in one day! If I can offer just one piece of advice: DON’T WAIT. If you are noticing that your child is struggling to identify letters and their sounds consistently, is reversing letters and numbers, speak to your child’s teacher. Consult with a Psychologist with specialty in education. Ask questions. Request accommodations based on what you are doing at home that is helpful. Share your child’s struggles at home with homework or meltdowns about going to school if your teacher doesn’t see this.
This will require you to advocate for your child. What does this mean? According to Dictionary.com, advocating is defined as, “to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; recommend publicly.”
Let’s discuss a few places to begin in advocating for your child:
Know your child’s strengths, their attention issues and specific learning challenges so that you can communicate their needs effectively to the school and you and his teachers can find the best way to support his needs.
Talk to your child about school. Look over her assignments and quizzes. Ask simple questions like, “What is easy to do each day?” or “Which subject do you wish you had only once a week instead of every day?” Carefully consider their answers. You can also teach your child lingo so that he can self- advocate for himself if he doesn’t understand a particular concept in school.
Teach your child to advocate for his/herself. If your child is in High School or College, she can begin to advocate for herself. Once your child enters into middle school, you can request for your child to participate in IEP meetings and Parent-Teacher meetings so he can hear what you are hearing. You can play a big role in helping him learn how to do this by helping him come up with a plan, role playing and/or assisting with writing an e-mail to his teacher.
Know Your Rights. If your child has a 504 Accommodation Plan or an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), you must become familiar with the process in order to effectively advocate for your child. (Click here to access NJ Special Education Code)
A 504 Accommodation Plan is designed to provide accommodations tostudents with physical or mental impairments in public schools, or publicly funded private schools. These 504 plans legally ensure that students will be treated fairly at school.Know that you are your child’s best advocate as you know her profile better than anyone, and you know it across all domains (home and school). Schedule follow up meetings and review your child’s progress consistently throughout the school year, perhaps once per month or once every two months.
Executive Function Skills Accommodations For Your Child At School
Is it possible for a student to have a high IQ and still fail school classes? The answer, sadly, is yes. You may have a student who is able to learn and retain new concepts and apply them, but maintaining school materials, remembering to write down homework assignments and turn them in, managing time, prioritizing assignments are all skills known as executive functioning skills that our kids are not born with, nor are these specific skills taught specifically to our children.
According to Dr. Russell Barkley, an ADHD guru, executive function (or EF) refers to the cognitive or mental abilities that people need to actively pursue goals. In other words, it’s about how we behave toward our future goals and what mental abilities we need to accomplish them.
EF is made up of seven skills:
3. Non-Verbal Working Memory
4. Verbal Working Memory
5. Emotional Self-Regulation
7. Planning and Problem Solving
When a student has a deficit in one or more of the EFs, they may experience some difficulty in school with planning, organizing, motivation and problem-solving.
So how do we help our children at school? If you have a child diagnosed with ADHD, you may be eligible for a 504 Accommodation Plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) if you child requires a special education program and other services.
If your child doesn’t have a 504 Accommodation Plan, reach out to your child’s Guidance Counselor and request one along with a diagnosis provided by your Pediatrician, Neurologist or Psychologist. If you feel that your child requires an IEP, prepare a written request for a CST meeting for your child.
If your child already has a 504 Accommodation Plan or IEP, you may want to consider adding any or all of the following accommodations to help build and maintain your child’s EF skills on a daily basis:
- Teach students the importance of “future thinking”. Help students envision having a start, mid and endpoint to a task. Having a well-defined target helps to focus students’ efforts. Some questions to consider, for example: What do I need to start? How will I start? Where will I start? How long will each step take? How much time should I work on the assignment each night? What will it look like when it’s completed? How will I feel when I complete the assignment?
- Use a calendar or daily assignment pad/planner to help students schedule and pace the tasks that lead to completion of the assignment.
- Provide multi-sensory instruction and methods of assessing what the student has learned
- Practice estimating how long a task might take to complete. Compare the actual length of the activity and the estimation.
- Break down assignments into smaller steps
- Break down long term assignments into smaller assignments with short-term deadlines
- Provide daily repetition, rehearsal, and review to move information from working to long-term memory. 10-20 minutes daily.
- Help students develop checklists for daily routines, homework completion and turning in assignments on time.
Next time you encounter a student that turns in all their assignments late or can’t seem to get to class on time, they could have lagging executive function skills. Remember, our children don’t wake up with the intent to forget to hand in their homework, or leave their books at school. Dr. Ross W. Greene says, “They would if they could.”
When our children haven’t yet developed their EF skills, it doesn’t make sense to be punitive. Instead, when a child is struggling with a particular EF skill, help them build it up instead of breaking them down.
ADHD – There’s an Accommodation For That
It’s no secret or surprise – our children with ADHD or learning disabilities are going to need accommodations within their home and school environment. Although some may argue that we are not preparing our children for ‘the real world’, it’s important to give our children the space and time to gain the skills they will need in the future. These skills we often reference are really executive functioning skills, confidence and the ability to self-regulate in disguise.
What is Your Child’s Learning Style?
First things first, how does your child processes information most naturally? There are two general learning styles: visual spatial and auditory sequential.
Visual Spatial Learning Style
This learning style is commonly seen in children with ADHD or a learning disability. In essence, this is the type of learner who thinks in pictures, not words. For example, if I said the word ‘bike’, the visual spatial learner would imagine a picture of a bike. This is also the type of learner that thinks in big picture terms. Instead of following the sequence of one detail after another in order to reach the big picture, this is the type of learner who sees the big picture first, and then needs help breaking down that big picture into its details. In fact, details are a bit treacherous and boring.
Auditory Sequential Learning Style
This learning style is best characterized by the student who thinks in words. Again, if I said the word ‘bike’, this type of learner would envision the letters, ‘b-i-k-e’. This child with this learning style is an auditory learner that is in tune with the details and is able to build on the details until the big picture is gained. That is, this is the step-by-step learner who is analytical and attends well to details.
By understanding your child’s learning style, you will be able to direct your teacher how your child learns best, and to also use the types of strategies that are best suited to your child’s needs at home. For example, for the visual spatial learner, note cards are boring and a horrible waste of time. Instead, draw diagrams, watch a video, or discuss how the concept works. Color, songs and music are also great ways to help your child to learn new information that can be overwhelming or tedious.
At home and at school, because our children don’t process the details of how to maintain an organizational system, we have to use their visual spatial tendencies to help them stay organized.
Share these strategies with your child’s teacher and create a supportive plan for your child. You can also use these strategies at home:
- Break down a multi-step task into 1-2 steps at a time
- Color code notebooks and folders for each subject so that your child isn’t processing the word ‘M-a-t-h’ but rather the color red, for example
- Set a timer for a homework assignment and work against the timer. This will take a task that can feel endless and give it a time limit.. and an end.
- Create a visual depiction (aka graphic organizer) for a writing assignment using the ice cream, hamburger, or spider.
- Post reminders or information to be remembered (e.g., pack lunch) on a post-it note and put it in a place that your child will definitely pass or look at in the morning.
- Take pictures of your child doing the activity, step by step, and use that to guide the morning or bedtime routine.
- Go through your child’s backpack once a month to take out the extra ‘stuff’ that’s hanging out without use
- Place your child’s desk in a corner between two walls, away from windows and doors. Keep the surface empty. Place all materials in bins in the drawers.
Time for a Sensory Break!
Is your child sensory seeking or are they under stimulated? The need or avoidance of sensory input can lead to poor focus and distraction, as well as restlessness and fidgetiness. Consult with your school or private Occupational Therapist (OT) to gain an understanding of your child’s sensory profile. Use those sensory strategies both at home and in the classroom:
- Add Kinetic sand into a bin and have your child explore and play.
- Use flexible seating in the home, yoga balls and bean bag chairs instead of traditional chairs.
- Chewing gum for calming and concentration
- Silly putty for hand strengthening
- Wall push ups
- Jumping jacks
- Deep breathing
By understanding your child’s strengths and how he processes the world, you and your teacher will be better able to reach your child at home and in school with less resistance and greater ease.
Every child with special needs is entitled to a free and appropriate education. Every child on the autistic spectrum has a unique profile, with unique needs. A one size fits all model does not work for our children within the public school setting.
So what variables should be considered by you, the parent, and the school in making a decision about the program, accommodations, and related services that your child needs? Watch my web show with Autism Live Show, Let’s Talk Autism with Nancy and Shannon where we discussed the different options that are available for your child.
When your child is diagnosed with ADHD, what is the next step in gaining support for your child within the school setting? There is a 504 Accommodation Plan or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), but which one is for your child?
Click here to read my blog with ADDitude Magazine to see which one your child needs!
Take a look at my latest blog with ADDitude Magazine to assess how useful your child’s plan really is.