As parents we want our children to succeed in school and it can be quite a concern when we have a child that is struggling to learn year in, year out. This is particularly so when we have done all that is “possible” to ensure that the child makes progress including arranging for extra tutorials at school and at home and, spending long hours trying to teach your child skills.
The first thing to do if your child is struggling to learn is to check out the environments. By this, you want to first find out if the quality of instruction is good enough to facilitate skill development and mastery.
Does your child’s school use a standardized curriculum for reading, math and other core subjects?
Are the teachers qualified and supported to provide appropriate instruction?
And is the learning environment conducive to learning?
Was the initiated intervention explicit, targeted, and delivered in a manner that fosters sequential skill development?
If your response to the questions above is in the affirmative, then the next step would be to consider the possible presence of a learning difficulty. Some children will have difficulties with learning due to underlying cognitive processing issues. They may struggle with handwriting, mastering the phonic sounds and reading or may exhibit a lot of anxiety with math. These signs may be visible from the preschool years and become more pronounced by the time your child gets into primary school. Parents sometimes erroneously put the blame of low achievement that becomes noticeable in the primary school years to the transition process (school or class teacher changes) when in actual fact, the gaps may have always been there but only become more visible due to a higher demand in putting those skills to use.
It is important to know that these highlighted issues and difficulties do not resolve on their own. Rather they become worse as your child climbs up the learning ladder and learning demands become even more complex.
If this is the picture of your child, then it is best you get help for your child. Learning difficulties specific to reading, written expression, Math and handwriting are fairly common among school aged children; about 10% of school aged children are reported to have one form of learning difficulty or the other with Dyslexia being the most prevalent. It is possible that your child may be experiencing learning difficulty in which case, your child will need some extra support to learn strategies and build skills to overcome these difficulties with learning.
WHAT TO DO
A good place to start if your child is struggling with learning would be to have your child evaluated. A psychoeducational assessment by a developmental child psychologist, clinical child psychologist, educational psychologist or a licensed school psychologist would be helpful in understanding your child’s learning profile and support needs. It is important that your child is evaluated by professionals who have professional training and are certified to conduct such assessments to avoid a misdiagnosis. A psychoeducational assessment will help you answer questions such as:
What type of learner your child is?
Why are your child’s grades declining?
Why is it that your child finds it difficult to pay attention?
Why does your child cry when asked to write, read or complete Math assignments?
Why is your child’s handwriting so disorganized and illegible despite intense handwriting instruction?
Why is it that your child can respond verbally but struggles to write down their thoughts?
These and other questions about your child’s learning and behavior will be answered during the assessment.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM PSYCHOEDUCATIONAL ASSESSMENT?
The clinician will ask you some questions and take your child through some standardized testing procedures. The process will involve four key steps:
Developmental history review & background information: to better understand your child's needs, the clinician will want to find out about your child’s birth history, developmental & health history, socio-emotional and academic history, family history (to check genetic links), areas of concern and when you started noticing the concerns. The clinician will usually give you a form to fill that allows you to respond to questions around these areas.
Assessment Proper: the next step would be to take your child through the assessment process. Depending on your child’s age and needs, this process may be activity based (play activities, completing hands on activities like puzzles, physical activities to check motor skills, etc.) or written tests where your child will respond to academic and cognitive questions that measure their skills in Reading, writing, Math, reasoning and memory in comparison to children of the same age or class groupings. In most cases, you will be asked to be part of the process if your presence will not be distracting to your child.
Post Assessment Briefing: When the process is complete, you will be invited to a meeting with the clinician and other members of the assessment team (for multi-disciplinary assessments) to discuss the findings which will include possible diagnosis and treatment options. Sometimes, the clinician or team members may have questions about things observed during the assessment that they will ask you. It is also an opportunity for you to ask questions and get further information on available resources they may be aware of that you can start using for your child.
Written Report: the final step to the assessment is the issuance of a comprehensive written report by the clinician detailing findings and recommendations for accommodations that will help your child learn better. This will contain clinical information written in simple language that you and your child’s school team should understand to be able to implement the recommendations. There might also be another meeting with your clinician to discuss this report.
A psychoeducational assessment helps you understand how your child learns and types of support they will need. Findings should be discussed with your child’s school team and if there is a need for a specialist to work with your child in or out of school, this should be communicated as well.
Depending on the assessment findings, one or two of the following professionals may need to work with your child in school and/or at home:
Behavior therapist – if your child has disruptive behaviours that affect learning
Occupational therapist – if your child is struggling with sensory processing issues, has handwriting difficulties or difficulties sustaining attention.
Special educator/educational therapist – if your child is struggling with reading, math, or experiencing difficulties with written expression.
Psychologist – if your child has cognitive processing difficulties relating to reasoning, attention and memory
It is important to ensure that any of these professionals have been trained and licensed to work in the areas your child needs help with. As much as possible, parents are to avoid engaging professionals who claim to be generalists (occupational therapist, special educator and speech therapist) or go by generic titles of “therapist”. Professional(s) engaged should have a good understanding of your child’s diagnosis, requisite skills and a written plan of action with stated goals (specific targets with success criteria) that will guide their work with your child.
If you would like to schedule a psychoeducational assessment for your child with us or would need help in getting started with your child’s support, click here to tell us about your child and we will give you a call.
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