Helping Children Reach Their Full Potential

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Fall 2016

In our last issue, we shared tools to help you improve collaboration with your child’s teachers and school. One of those tools was a binder. The following checklist is a useful page to put at the beginning of that binder as a constant reminder of the ways that you can help your child:

  • Foremost, educate yourself.
    Attend conferences, read suggested books, and network with parents who “have been there.” Listen attentively and read carefully. Learn all you can about the nature of your child’s learning difficulties. Take notes of particular parenting or academic strategies that have been successful, ones that you think might work for your child. By educating yourself, you not only maintain self-confidence to help you deal with professionals in the field, but you also place yourself in a stronger position for making informed decisions about your child’s educational career and emotional life.
  • Create a notebook of your child’s work.
    Invest in a 3-ring hole punch, and buy a 3-ring binder. Compile your child’s work—everything from crinkled homework sheets, to returned tests, to workbook pages. Organize the papers chronologically and by subject matter. Include anecdotal information as well. Bring it to meetings as written documentation of your child’s progress (or lack of progress). As a chronicle of your child’s day-to-day work, you are in a good position to do your own analysis. For example, one parent discovered that her son’s poor grades on math tests were not a reflection of his misunderstanding of the concept, but a simple mechanical error, such as he forgot to reduce fractions to the lowest common denominator. In this case, it was a parent who uncovered the problem.
  • Keep your expectations high.
    Too often teachers and parents lower their expectations because of their child’s learning difficulties, when, in fact, these children need high standards and reasonable goals. When expectations are high, students are forced to face their difficulties. Within a supportive and encouraging environment, they will learn how to cope. Yes, there will be times of setbacks and moments of frustration, but that doesn’t mean you should lower your standards, it means your child will learn to persevere in the face of adversity.
  • Visit your child’s classroom often.
    Volunteer your time in your child’s classroom in any capacity. First, it allows you to see how your child functions in comparison to his or her peers. Second, it increases your quantity time with the teacher. Your goal is to foster a close working relationship between you and the teacher. Your child will benefit from these frequent interactions because you will be “in the know,” specifically in terms of assignment expectations. Further, you will have an “insider’s view” of the teacher’s teaching style. With this perspective, you will certainly feel more empowered when managing your child’s education, in general, and more able to help with individual homework assignments.
  • Keep a file of potential references.
    Who might be included in this file? For starters, include the names of reputable tutors who are trained in structured literacy and can help your child learn to read. The name of a pediatrician who understands learning difficulties is a must. If you have medication issues that need careful attention, you will want to choose a doctor who is not only sympathetic, but also knowledgeable about your child’s special needs. A counselor who deals specifically with emotional support and educational planning, such as college placement for children with learning difficulties, may be a useful resource. Include a reliable advocate who can accompany you to those often arduous and emotionally charged school meetings. A psychologist who treats children and adolescents with learning disabilities should also be on the list in case the need arises; adolescence is a trying time for most students, but it presents unique problems for children with learning disabilities. And finally, contact information of school administrators and teachers is helpful when you have questions or need help in planning for your child’s academic future and success.
  • Be even more patient on “off” days. 
    An “off” day is when things just aren’t in sync for your child. A typical example of this is his or her oral reading, which may typically be slow, but accurate, is inexplicably slower and beset with multiple inaccuracies and retrieval difficulties. You’ll know it is an “off” day not only by the increase in subtle distress signals, such as yawning and heavy sighs, but also by a change in his or her general tolerance level. As a parent, keep in mind that inconsistency is part-and-parcel of having learning disabilities. It is important to help your child recognize these days and acknowledge feelings of frustration and discouragement. It is equally important to help your child develop strategies to manage these days. On a particularly heavy homework night, you may need to do a greater share of reading, be a scribe for the upcoming book report, or put off practicing math facts for a better day. Again, reassure your child that “off” days will occur but that tomorrow will be a better day.
  • Read aloud with your child every day. 
    Reading to your child makes a difference, not only in improving your child’s general comprehension and vocabulary, but in improving his or her decoding skills as well. While your child is being remediated for underlying decoding difficulties, they are most likely reading controlled texts (ones which include sound concepts that have been taught). Once they graduate to less-controlled texts, they will encounter words containing a greater variety of sound concepts, perhaps some that have not yet been formally introduced. At this point, they must rely on decoding skills to figure out the intended pronunciation of a seemingly unfamiliar word. If that word is in his or her oral vocabulary (learned from listening to language), then the chances of reading the intended pronunciation when reading independently are much greater than if the word were not in his or her oral vocabulary. Those students who have been extensively read to have a distinct advantage over those students who have not had the same exposure to language.
  • Let your child become an expert. 
    Whether it be a nonacademic skill, such as sewing, tree house building, or drawing, or knowledge about a specific subject, such as animals, sports, movies, computers, or music, help your child develop an area of expertise. Why? It can become a topic for open-ended writing assignments or oral reports. This area of expertise may develop into a lifelong hobby, providing hours of fun and personal satisfaction. It may also provide opportunities for your child to shine in front of his or her peers and meet others who share a common interest, one way long-lasting friendships begin.
  • Start a dialogue with your child.
    Talk to your child about his or her learning difficulties. Be honest. Be matter-of-fact. Your goal is to demystify the notion that something is wrong. Your child already senses that. Help your child acknowledge his or her feelings and put learning difficulties into perspective. A starting point may be to have a specific conversation about strengths and weaknesses, or talk in general terms about how people with learning difficulties have special minds that just happen to learn differently. This will establish the groundwork for a conversation that is going to continually mold itself over the years. As this dialogue develops, by the middle and high-school years, you may want to steer this conversation toward helping your child become his or her own advocate. Role-playing should be an integral part of the dialogue by this time.
  • Keep a sense of humor.

    Learning is a challenging, often painful, experience for children with learning difficulties. They—and you—need laughter in their lives and lots of it!

A committee of parents of children with dyslexia has been working with the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) to address issues of concern raised by an IDA survey. 

IDA thanks everyone involved in the important work of this committee and Decoding Dyslexia  for their contributions to this content. Decoding Dyslexia is a grassroots parents movement with chapters in 50 states and 4 provinces in Canada, dedicated to dyslexia awareness, empowering families, and informing policy-makers of best practices.

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