How to Create Visibility and Cohesion
As the parent of a child with learning difficulties, you probably have more professionals in your life than the average parent. Coordinating and managing these relationships is an overlooked challenge for a parent of child needing learning or reading help.
Most likely, you have had to learn about learning disabilities while parenting. Just as challenging is managing the conflicting opinions and competing demands on your child’s time for your learning professionals – teachers, special ed, clinician, tutors, etc.
Forming effective partnerships is not as easy as it sounds, and it’s been a major concern of educational policy. That’s because most parents of such children have neither effective partnerships nor great communication with their children’s schools.
We’ll share some best practices to become your child’s advocate for continuing access to the right support when they need it. And to keep you in the know about your child’s learning and their challenges.
The roll call of professionals
Depending on your child’s learning difficulties, they might need access to these types of medical and non-medical professionals (as well as their classroom teacher, of course):
- Inclusion or special education specialist/co-ordinator at their school
- Special education itinerant teacher
- Speech therapist
- Speech-language pathologists
- Literacy and numeracy specialist
- Educational specialist
- Psychologist including pediatric neuropsychologists
- Reading specialist
- Special education attorney
- Occupational therapist
- Social Worker, and
- Tutors/homework helpers.
That might sound like a daunting list, but many would work with your family as well as your child.
Create an overarching philosophy
Professionals have a number of different focal points – the barriers and omissions in the learning environment, teaching strategies, remediation that treats underlying causes, tutoring that supports daily requirements. It’s a holistic view about what adjustments need to be made in delivery, equipment, approaches to teaching, and learning to allow your child to access the content and curriculum to achieve learning.
Seeing the learning environment from the child’s perspective can be eye-opening. That ensures learning difficulties in students are treated on a case-by-case basis rather than a one-shop-fits all approach.
As the parent, the overarching philosophy should come from you. It is you who know your child the best, and it is your values and attitudes to life that are the most important.
Remember, in life – if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And so tutors will tell you your child can’t fall behind – every bit of homework matters, a clinician might focus on language skills or vision, depending on their specialty, whereas reading intervention program providers (OK yes, like Gemm Learning), will counsel taking the time now to work on the underlying impediments to future learning, even if that means skipping a few homework assignments.
And there are trade-offs – taking part of a childhood to make learning easier in the future, having regard for a child’s self-esteem, which might in the short term be best served by doing well on current homework and tests.
Rather than bouncing around, and being influenced most by the last learning professional you spoke to, it is helpful to your child, your professionals and for your own sanity to try to think through your priorities and a course of action of a period of time. And that might include a series of if statements. We will go with this to start, and then if…
Part of this process might be visibility, letting everyone know what’s going on, creating a partnership around your child where there is clear understanding of plan.
Demystifying the partnership
What’s the point of a having the different professionals work together as a team? A partnership mindset:
- Ensures each part is on the same page as to its purpose
- Gives clarity about who’s in the partnership and why
- Builds into the partnership transparency and accountability for effective monitoring.
These driving principles are useful to keep in mind.
Relationships are the key
If you find your child’s teacher is positive about your child and is approachable, you’ll have a better chance of forming a successful relationship, research shows. You need a professional who is not being paid for providing services who you can trust. If your child’s teacher fills that bill you are in great shape!
A UK study found parents appear to lean on teachers to drive the partnerships, saying: “Educational professionals appeared to be solely responsible for developing and maintaining partnerships as a whole, with an emphasis on the socio-emotional aspects of the relationships – in other words, approachability, and trust – to encourage parents to engage with them.”
That study pointed to headteachers in schools as being able to influence more effective partnerships between parents and education professionals. However, both classroom and headteachers have workloads and responsibilities that are increasing exponentially.
When it comes to meeting your child’s specialist, understood.org offers these tips to get started on the right foot:
- Do your homework
- Gather your evidence
- Arm yourself with a list of questions
- Expect to answer theirs
- Quiz the specialist about their approach, and
- Talk about the next steps.
In your dealings with them, take and organise your notes (and their reports) in hard copy and electronically. This means you can carry your notes to face-to-face meetings and can electronically search them when needed.
Don’t rely on your memory for monitoring and evaluations. Pop those reminders in an electronic calendar to prompt you to check in on your child’s progress. Another option is a free monthly planning guide you can download from shiftyourthinkingld.com. It allows you to zero in on you as a parent, plus review your child’s monthly successes and challenges with learning.
And, when it’s time for a parent-teacher interview with your child, this worksheet from understood.org will help guide you to make that a successful meeting.
Pitfalls to ponder
The are however perfectly reasonable reasons schools might avoid learning interventions for your child — many schools see their role as primarily instruction, not learning interventions. It’s important to have a clear idea of where your school stands there. It can be a wake-up call to parents to not focus all your energy on your child’s teacher and the school as problem-solvers for your child’s learning even if there’s an agreed Individualized Education Plan (IEP) involved. There are legal requirements to make adjustments for your child, but in reality, school budgets and resources are under pressure.
Another major consideration of course is your child’s temperament and attitude. Arguably, the most important outcome of a child’s education is an intact love of learning and love of reading. That’s a fragile relationship when a child has learning difficulties, and too much burden around learning at an early age can risk poisoning the well long term.
Again, these trade-offs are your call. And clarity there will be helpful to the professionals in your life.
Gemm Learning’s Philosophy
Gemm Learning has a “one and done” intervention that aims to make learning and reading easier for a lifetime and to make a love of learning possible. However, it is an added burden for a child for the 6 months or so of the program – 30 minutes a day, 3-4 days a week.
We are protective of those precious childhood years AND understand we cannot help every child. Which is why we always start with a free consult – where we find out if your child is “one of ours.” If the answer is no, we will do our best either refer you to someone who can help or we will advise you to give your child a little more time to develop, the track is not as far off as you think.
If your child struggles with reading or does not enjoy learning, or has been diagnosed with a language processing or reading delay (such as dyslexia), Gemm Learning would be a useful starting point. Find out if we can help here.